Manipulation of masses in Pakistan elections

(Salman Zaffar, )

“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.” –Franklin D. Rossevelt. The third transfer of power to a democratic regime in Pakistan is a milestone in the country’s history. However, once again religion held a center-position in elections of 2018. Once more the political players of the country resorted to religion to achieve their motives of political victory. The conservatives, seculars and liberals all stood up for various seats in the national and provincial assemblies and emphasized on religion, instead of on ideologies. The history has witnessed how religion has been played at the helms of individuals to influence masses. These maneuvers have gravely hindered rational decision-making at the larger-level.

The religious political parties became more potent during the reigns of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq due to the incapability of public that could not differentiate between religion and politics. Unfortunately, it was during 1970s and 1980 when the religious-based politics took roots in Pakistan and led to outrageous religious sentiments and policies, paving way for the Afghan war, Talibanisation and breakout of extremist groups pigeonholed and radicalized elements in the nation. From the bird’s eye view it can be gauged how religion was manipulated to attract masses and abject the political agenda of secular parties.

In the elections of 2018, the persistency of this trend was notculled and anew election campaigns were engineered centering religion. One more time,the political candidates were embroiled into using numerous tactics in order to win the vote of a common man by hurling political barbs on their competitors or demeaning them on religious front. The move by Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz aka PML(N) to amend the controversial law on religious minority- Ahmadi paved for Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi to emerge in no time,which also gave serious set-back to the party, as witnessed from the results of 2018 polls.Throughout the polls TLP made enforcement of blasphemy law a central plank in its campaign that grants automatic death penalty for anyone deemed to have insulted Islam or the Prophet Muhammad. A number of other religious parties also formed alliance under the banner of Muthaida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).Rather than putting forth their roadmaps of how these parties will address woes of the nation they whipped up religious sensitivities.

Another trend observed during this election was emergence of independent candidates. It is plausible that youngsters are now shoving aside their apathy towards politics and are engaging in nation-building. The case of Jibran Nasir, a young candidate from law background, would be worth mentioning in this piece of writing.Jibran Nasir is changing the political discourse based on religious hatred and sectarianism as he dismissed the notion of maligning religious minorities in his campaigns. But as the number of supporters increased, so did the violent backlash from Islamist groups. On one occasion,TLP targeted Nasir’s campaign in Karachi’s Bizerta Lines area, tore his posters down, threw stones at his rally and accused him of blasphemy, whilehe blew kisses back at them.Later, at another campaign, he was forced to declare Ahmadis, an Islamic sect excommunicated by the Pakistani constitution, as kafir (infidels) and curse at them to which he refused.

Nonetheless,Imran Khan, a few days before elections’ rejected notions of repealing the second amendment to the Pakistani constitution which declares the Ahmadi community to be non-Muslims. His honesty and intentions, in terms of running the State should not be doubted but regrettably in order to keep vote bank alive these tactics are followed even by the preferred leaders of the majority. This country has been ravaged by sectarian and ethnic strife, yet all that the masses continue to ask if the political candidate can recite Kalma or perform religious deeds. Candidates and parties are not evaluated based on education, degree of corruption, political manifestos, projects initiated or completed, economic plight and international relations. These events highlight the intolerance in Pakistani politics and the extent to which the hate campaign for Ahmadis is entrenched in it. People have been more interested in finding out if the politicians abuse Ahmadis or they don’t.

Such inherent and open discriminations end up in a vicious cycle.Senior politicians should now follow the suite of an independent candidate, who is taking [a] stand and is indulging in politics on the basis of principles rather than making religion as a tool for earning votes. If he has won a sizable vote bank, the leading parties should also change their stance and promote peace and harmony. This act will not only discourage frenzied mobs who go on rampages and kill people at the mere suggestion that at an act of blasphemy has been committed but will also eliminate incitement of violence among individuals.

To sum up, Pakistan, being a social-welfare state should work for providing basic necessities to its people and progress in direction of ameliorating their living standard, instead of engaging the hoi polloi into trivial debates. All the institutions of the state need to fashion ways to address socioeconomic woes and curb extremism and radicalized elements. The electioneering campaigns should be strictly monitored to culminate religious incitement. While religion may not be the only factor but it is a crucial factor in decision-making. Thus, it is rudimentary to develop doctrines that would pave for better pluralistic and prosperous future of the nation, free from religious manipulations.


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04 Sep, 2018 Views: 238


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