Newspapers have given extensive coverage this week to the manifesto launch made by Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri, chairman of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT). Reportedly Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri has a media team from Europe at his disposal, to coordinate his election campaign, which was quite apparent from the professionalism evident from the actual manifesto launch at the Pearl Continental in Lahore. Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri is known for his liberal, practical and principled policies and opinions regarding national political issues, which is why his party is said to have support from many sections of society including many sects and minorities. Well having said all that, the election manifesto launch ceremony did catch many by surprise, as many commentators have likened the event to those organised by more apparently secular parties such as the PTI, Millat Party or the PPPP.
The ceremony did project a very positive image of the Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) as nothing was left to chance with every minute detail taken into perspective. Colour copies of the manifesto available in English and Urdu, a short PAT action packed film shown on a projector with Dr Qadri intermingling with journalists before the start of the program had all the hallmarks of a manifesto launch of a western political party. Well Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri should be commended for disconnecting himself from the woes of Pakistani political culture and tradition by adopting a western approach which of course is an ideal one.
Elections in western developed democracies are overwhelmingly dominated by commitments made in each party’s manifesto, with debates and support being ‘issue oriented’ rather than personality or party based. PAT’s manifesto launch may be a successful attempt in acting as a yard stick for other parties, but before getting carried away with such a splendid projection of the PAT manifesto thanks to the foreign media team, the simple fact is that elections in Pakistan are not fought over issues and manifestos. Pakistani elections cannot compare in anyway to elections, say in Britain, as the parameters are totally different rather contradictory.
Well rather than acting on the principle of ‘Do in Rome as the Romans do’, rising political parties such as PAT, PTI and Millat party will only be successful if they recognize and accept the wrong doings of the older parties by taking a firm principled stand geared towards change. Well senior political commentators have highly praised PAT’s manifesto with varied skepticism on how such revolutionary social and economic transformations can be brought about in a country such as Pakistan. PAT’s slogan ‘Putting People First’ is all good and well but on the basis of ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ skeptics will need further persuasion on part of PAT and its leader, on how PAT is different to the plunderers of the past who simply exploited the votes of the poor by promising them everything under the sun. The PTI and PAT are immune from allegation of corruption as neither party or their leaders have been in power, thus placing them in the same boat as those parties who have been in power may be a little unfair.
Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri of all people does not need to be reminded of the fact that he is in Lahore and not London, as his party has always been against the corrupt political system of Pakistan, working to uproot it. Accepting the claims of parties like PAT that they have a full proof plan of taking Pakistan on a road of recovery and prosperity, there seems to be no guarantee that all of these emerging parties will be a part of the post-October government, giving them the opportunity to implement their manifestos. Adding the slight draw back of virtually every election in the last decade being heavily rigged meaning that even if these parties have support in the masses as they claim to do so, they will not be able to gain an iota of success.
Fearing rigging and the phenomena of pre-poll rigging, opposition parties including PTI and PAT have seemed to have grasped the idea of uniting if they stand to have any chance of stopping Musharaf in his tracks. As yet no opposition alliance has materialised with daily reports of possible electoral alliances or seats adjustments being in the pipeline. PAT has preferred to form a grand opposition alliance including the PPPP and PML (N), with the PTI reluctant in joining hands with parties it accuses of grand corruption.
The public have been suffering for decades as successive governments have failed to provide relief to them, with no end in site to price hikes, inflation, unemployment, poverty, corruption and terrorism, the public will surely welcome a new political leadership. The onus is now upon these new political parties and their leadership to convey their manifestos and party agendas to the masses. How that will be possible with many traditional methods of gaining access to the masses still being banned; no sign of the government providing equal air time to each party on PTV; with laws being prepared on curtailing political opinion on cable channels, the situation seems to be increasingly desperate for parties opposed to Musharaf.
Mr. Jawed Iqbal, is an independent writer and a political analyst. His articles appear in printed and electronic media of Pakistan.