The tentative consolidation of democracy and new tactics to win electoral contest in Pakistan has been woven around the traditional matrix of gaining electoral influence and subsequent access to power but with certain differences that have complicated the entire process. The vortex of political power is now decisively tilted towards groupings and individuals having overweening financial wherewithal. The biggest casualty of the rise of the current democratic order is ideological commitment to pursuing and achieving political goals. It cannot be said that Pakistan lacked ideological basis underpinning politics but unfortunately it faded away due to frequent forced interventions. The changed circumstances have given rise to a political thought that believes in winning power through financial manipulation.
The rise of the current formula for being successful in politics is dependent upon employing vast financial resources to gain party support and attracting voters to cast accordingly. The emphasis is now on so-called ATMs bankrolling electoral exercise and deciding political issues according to their preferences. The most damaging outcome of this shift in emphasis is that it has been taken away electoral process from the reach of people who lack large fortunes and it is now completely hijacked by people with monetary means. Contesting elections is now a luxury very few can afford. Gone are the days when people like Prof Ghafoor and Dr. Nazir Ahmed fought elections on meagre financial resources and won them.
Electoral contests are full of political wheeling-dealing and intrigues are part of the game but the extent of it in Pakistan has reached alarming proportions with tremendous financial stakes involved in it. It has become immaterial whether such financial outlays are procured through legal or illegal means and no one asks questions about them anymore. It goes without saying that the all-round impact of politicking done exclusively on financial muscle becomes detrimental to the social structure and such an impact is decisively devastating as corrupt political practices trickle down to all segments of the social order creating a surreal environment.
The practice in vogue now entails paying for obtaining party ticket and wooing the voters on the basis of financial interest. Many politicians have openly blamed that the parliamentary ticket awarding boards of political parties expect their palms to be greased and have quoted fantastic amounts for obtaining a ticket. The country is abuzz with rumours about vote-buying drive launched by political elements and since the activity is illegal therefore it will be difficult to verify such rumours. However, the practice of buying vote is not alien to Pakistani political culture but the difference this time is that it promises to be widespread and decisive.
To add to their armoury, political elements are spending a lot of money to raise teams of sycophants who do their bidding and justify their right and wrong actions. They are recruited on the basis of their ability to cause maximum mayhem. The emergence of political teams mandated to engage in mudslinging matches with opponents and the more vociferous adventurers are duly rewarded. The lure of financial rewards has helped create a class of political operatives that has learnt to engage in character assassination professionally and has developed thick-skin to ward of criticism directed towards it. This element is now found in all political groups who vie with each other to obtain the ‘services’ of the best in the field. The repulsive practice has refused to abate despite pressure exerted by superior judiciary to clamp down on it.
Large-scale financial stakeholders have entered the game and no objections are raised even if some politicos are gifted palatial residences and the others build fabulous living spaces. Despite the dubious nature of source of funding of such ventures no queries are raised. The financial preponderance is now unchallenged and it is considered the make-or-break difference. The electoral field has become a hub of financial investment with many investors like Bahria Town finding it feasible to sponsor opposing parties and make all-round investment.
In Pakistan electability appears to have trumped all else leaving parties with no option to bend over backwards to win them to their side. The leading political party currently had to face a strong backlash against co-opting electables but is persevering with its policy. The current situation probably has convinced all parties in the political arena that the incoming parliament may be a hung body therefore they are practically in a no-win situation. They are scrambling hard to improve their electoral chances and are convinced that they must procure the assistance of tried-and-tested electables who, they think, will tilt the balance in their favour.
The political landscape is badly soiled and there appear little chances of any improvement in it in the short term. The current atmosphere is self-defeating in the extreme and any political party winning the next elections will be hard pressed to stabilise matters. The elite-controlled electoral scenario will cause more harm to democracy and it is essential to shun it. The only positive factor is the open media operating in the country that is trying its best to educate the voters. It is goading voters to look into track record of political elements asking for their votes. Many NGOs are also helping to aid Pakistani voter for using his right to vote. The voter can play a decisive role in rolling back the powerful evolution of despicable practices in Pakistan’s electoral set-up and can challenge the existing social, political, and economic order. TW