A visit to villages in Punjab and Khyber Paktoonkhwa (KPK) shows that the season of election has started. There are street banners and billboards from probable candidates of various parties, political rallies, corner meetings and local deal makings are in full swing. But there is a deeper current flowing that suggests that the country is preparing for a revolutionary change in its political structure. There are various factors in play for this sea change.
Youth activism in politics can be credited to the celebrity appeal of Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan. It started as a fan appeal but as these youth got indoctrinated in the ideology of Pakistan Tehrike Insaaf (PTI) they have become a potent political force that is eager to demonstrate its ability to affect the future of Pakistan. The challenge for PTI will be to mentor and guide this youthful energy with the experience and mentorship of seasoned politicians. They may be political novices but on the other hand they are savvy in using social media, mobile sms and twitter technologies to connect and mobilize at a very short notice. The effectiveness of these abilities was in full exhibit during the political rallies organized by PTI before and during Ramadan. This phenomenon was initially discarded by old guard politicians but the success of rallies in Faisalabad, Multan and Gujranwala has forced them to rethink their approach.
The other factor is the emergence of regional media that is showing its ability to educate local masses and influence their decision making by highlighting the poor performance and broken election promises of incumbent parties. As the national media focus on larger issues the regional media has carved its role by dictating the political agenda filled with local issues that can not be ignored by candidates and must become part of their election manifesto. Most of these media outlets are using social media and internet to spread their message to registered voters that have migrated to other parts of the country. If used effectively they can become a key factor in monitoring election fraud. Regional media is showing their desire to have an independent voice despite lack of financial resources to challenge the establishment and local landlord.
The third factor is the ever widening gap between rich and poor. As an illustration, Faisalabad is the second largest city in Punjab and an industrial center of Pakistan. Just few miles off the GT road, in the vicinity of Faisalabad, are located the poorest villages of Pakistan. In these villages the streets are unpaved, the children are unclothed, the sewerage is flowing in uncovered channels becoming breeding grounds for viruses, streets are littered with garbage and the houses are made of dirt. In the midst of this abject poverty the rich landlords are driving in shinning new Pradoâ€™s or Land Cruisers comforted by the cool breeze of an air condition while the masses are struggling below the poverty line burdened by the worry of the next meal. Rich are totally oblivious of the misery happening around them. They spend large part of the year in Faisalabad which is stocked with the best merchandize produced locally and internationally. Even when they spend few months in the villages their villas are built at a distance from the village featuring latest amenities construction technology can offer.
While the villages of central Punjab are poor ironically the Mosques are modern and adorned with the best marble inside and out. One wonders how people could afford to build such beautiful edifices when their own lives are below subsistence level. This paradox is solved when a person is informed that the funds for the mosque and attached Madrassaâ€™s are provided by international benefactors. This is a recipe for disaster as the orthodox Imam of the mosque is impregnating the mind of the people with hatred for the rich in the name of the religion. This phenomenon has made Punjab a breeding ground for extremism. The religious establishment has become so powerful that no one has the strength or the courage to challenge them. Anyone who dares to hint at bringing these institutions under the state control is threatened with dire consequences. Mosque has lost some of its political luster because of the acts of terrorism committed by the religious extremist. But it can not be totally ignored and will play a role in the elections.
In the next elections all these factors will come into play and will impact the outcome of the elections. The larger struggle will be between the rich and the poor. Youth, media and religious establishment will all join hands to defeat the influential status quo. PTI can provide the vehicle for this dynamic if the party played its card right. Realizing the PTI potential to break out as a majority party, it has suddenly become the darling of old political elite that had lost its luster or lost last elections. The debate within the party is how to handle this challenge and balance the interest of the loyalist against electable. If too many old faces get the party ticket then it will lose the prized status of party of change while ignoring it might not produce the desired number of parliamentary strength. It is the test of partyâ€™s ability to gauge the political current and use it to their advantage without losing their core constituencies of youth, undecided and new voters. PTI rallies and jalsas are drawing increasing crowds but the party analysts have to ascertain how many of these are party voters versus fans of cricket hero Imran Khan.
Against this backdrop PML N looks tired and out of ideas. PML N President, Nawaz Sharif seems awakened from a long slumber and behaving more like a reactionary than a visionary. PML N is fighting an existential threat as its core vote bank is attacked by PTI, MQM, and JI. PPP seems to be confident that the status quo in parliament will hold up with minor losses in its current numbers. PML Q looks like the party that will be most affected, many of their dissident leaders have joined ranks with PML N while some others might be unseated in the next elections. ANP, JUI F and MQM are expected to maintain their numbers except that ANP might lose its majority in KPK provincial parliament. They are eager and open to make alliance with the next emerging power center.
Revolutions are bloody while transformations are comparatively peaceful. Pakistan is at the cusp where it can tilt either way. One must hope that the nation will choose the path of transformation and emerge as a beacon of light for the larger Muslim world.