In the electoral politics of Pakistan, the political parties, ideology and programme matters little in the final outcome of the elections. In the big cities, the political parties enjoy some clout and their vote plays a decisive role but in the small cities, towns and rural areas the feudal lords, rich individuals and influential families call the shots. The constituency based politics centers around 300 big influential families plus another 1000 families allied to them. There are around 5 to 10 influential families which decide the fate of the constituency. They have no permanent ideology or political affiliations. They change their loyalty according to the situation. They have a history to change loyalties overnight. They have only one aim and that is to protect their own interests and maintain control in their respective areas. In many areas, the different members of the same family contest elections against each other under the banner of different political parties.
Pakistan has a total electorate of 85.4 million, of which 60 million are rural voters and 25 million are urban. If the past nine elections are any guide, around 50 million will not even turn out to vote. Of the 36 million who will come out to vote, no more than 10 million will be from urban areas and 26 million from the rural areas. There are 272 national assembly seats up for grab in the direct elections, while 60 seats are reserved for women and 10 seats for religious minorities which will be given on the basis of proportional representation to the different parties according to the votes they get. Out of 272 seats, 190 are rural seats which will not be decided on the basis of party, programme, and ideology but on the basis of clan, tribe, individual and family influence, money and local groupings. In rural areas, people do not vote individually but in blocks. In villages, the elders of different clans and tribes decide to which candidate there clan and tribe is going to vote. Money, local patronage and influence play key role in these decisions. The poor people, landless peasants and small farmers can not decide independently or individually for whom they will vote. They will have to follow the orders of the local feudal lord, tribal chief, rich and influential family and local police officials. The majority of feudal dominated rural population in rural Sindh, Baluchistan and in South Punjab can not exercise their right of vote in a democratic, open and transparent way. Even in central Punjab, which is somewhat free from the clutches of feudalism, the rural poor find it difficult to oppose the rich and influential candidates in their respective areas.
Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) at a rally in Lahore
Votes for sale
The main stream political parties like PML-N, PPP, PTI and others nominate the strong candidates belonging to the feudal and capitalist families. This election is no different. There was a stiff competition before the nomination of candidates to win over as many as of the candidates as possible to their party party. PML-N was the major beneficiary of this movement of candidates as it won over more than 60 parliamentarians of different parties across the country and now these strong candidates are standing on a PML-N platform. All these candidates belong to the rural constituencies. The PPP won over nearly two dozen such candidates and PTI which claims to be a party of change has won over more than 50 such candidates. Most of the seats which PTI expected to win are rural constituencies. PTI expected to win around 10 seats from feudal dominated South Punjab, the reason for this is that big influential feudal lords have joined the PTI and winning elections because of their own influence. These feudal lords and super rich industrialists in the past have won elections from the platform of other parties. The same applies to PML-N in South Punjab, in three districts of South Punjab namely Khanewal, Jhang and Muzafar Gar, PML-N failed to won a single seat in the last elections but now PML-N is expected to win 12 out of 15 seats from these districts. The reason is simple, all the candidates who won the last elections on the platform of different parties have left them and joined PML-N. The PPP in Sindh province has done the same; it won over the strong feudal lords who have been opposing the PPP for last 40 years. They have won previous elections on an anti-PPP Platform parties in Sindh but this time they choose to run for PPP.
Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari ( right), with his son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (left)
Many of these so-called candidates have many times publicly said that they do not need any political parties to win the elections but rather political parties need them to win elections. One such candidate from Sindh has so far swapped party political allegiance six times in last six elections! In many rural constituencies the contest is not between the political parties but between the personalities and groupings. There are feudal families in Pakistan who dominate the whole districts and family members of a certain family contest elections on all the seats of their respective district.
In the rural areas of Central Punjab, money determines the outcome of elections as the rich candidates buy the votes of poor people and sometimes those of the whole village or clan. The political parties prefer super rich candidates because they can spend money to buy and attract votes. There are more than 70 such candidates contesting elections from different parties just on the basis of their wealth. They have no vision, programme and ideology but have a lot of money to spend. Their method of election campaigning is different from the rest. They hire unemployed youth and provide vehicles, offices and money to run the campaign. They openly offer poor families money in return for their votes. This practice has become a norm in last two decades. No political party has resisted this practice but instead they encouraged candidates to do so.
Even the candidates of so-called party of “change and revolution” PTI are using the same tactics to win over the poor voters.
Election will change nothing for poor and the working class
This election is not going to bring any substantial change in the lives of the millions of peasants and rural poor whoever won the elections. The candidates of mainstream political parties and independents belong to the same class and they have same class interests to super exploit the masses. In some constituencies, there might be new faces come up but belonging to the same feudal elite. The peasants and rural poor have no real choice between the candidates. The choice is to choose one or the other oppressor. The majority of the rural masses still living without the education and health facilities, clean drinking water is a luxury and they still live in the 18th century living conditions. There is no decent housing, transport and employment for them. In many areas in Sindh and South Punjab, the animals and humans drink the same dirty water from the same ponds. The feudal and capitalist elite has failed to improve the living standards and lives of oppressed masses.
The weakening of the peasant and small farmers organizations over the years has further strengthen these feudal lords and capitalists. The peasant movement was very strong in late 1960s and 1970s and in many areas it challenged the political hegemony of these feudal and influential families. In some areas, these organizations evens conducted arm struggle in 1970s against the local feudal lords. These organizations were affiliated either with PPP or with left organizations. The collapse of Stalinism and PPP’s move to the right paved the way for the collapse of peasant movement in the country. The peasantry and rural workers want to change this situation. They want to break the shackles of feudalism and slavery. They have been forced to live below the dignity of human life and treated as slaves. The rural masses wanted to bring change but they are not organized. What is needed at the moment is to organize the peasantry and build a strong peasant movement in the rural areas and link it with the workers movement in the urban centers. There used to be a strong link between the workers movement in the cities and peasant movement in the rural areas. This link had been broken. The working masses in rural areas need a political alternative to further their struggle. The working class and peasants needs their own political voice and platform to challenge and bring an end to the game of musical chairs played by the feudal lords and capitalists they call elections.