“Which I wish to remark

And my language is plain

That for ways that are dark

And for tricks that are vain.”

– Bret Harte

These days, different political parties have arranged, or are in the process of arranging, rallies, meetings or parades to display their political strength and unity. This race started after Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) managed to stage a massive public gathering in Lahore, which motivated other parties to follow suit. For example, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) held a successful rally in Lahore, Gujranwala and Faisalabad. Immediately, the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) came into action and organised a gathering in Karachi, which was also successful keeping in view the number of people who were present there. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), too, arranged a mammoth public meeting at Naudero sending out loud and clear signals that it was still a force to be reckoned with, particularly in Sindh. However, when Pervez Musharraf announced the date of rally of his party - All Pakistan’s Muslim League (APML) - in Karachi nobody took him seriously. But after it was held even his worst detractors were forced to admit that without any tangible organisation at his command, the number of people who participated could be defined as “respectable”.

It seems that all the major political parties have started assuming that they will be able to capture power in the next elections. But the fact remains that these massive crowds may have misled some of the political parties and their leadership: That managing to attract mammoth crowds in their rallies would convert into votes. Nevertheless, the dynamics of voting is different in the rural and urban areas. While there is no doubt that many people will come out to exercise their right in the elections, it may come as a surprise for the leaders who are certain about their success just because their parties had drawn enormous crowds in the demonstrations.

Although most of the political parties have presented their manifestoes with a little bit of changes, it will not make a difference. Why? Because voting will continue on the same basis that has been the hallmark of Pakistan’s political culture where people vote for the individual, rather than his party’s policy. This is a true and that is why Imran, too, was quick to pick those candidates, who have considerable influence in their own constituencies. The trend of picking ‘winnable candidates’ may be a smart political move by different political parties, but, unfortunately, it indicates that those expecting structural changes in the State’s system of governance will not see it even after the elections. So, they may once again be disillusioned that, in turn, will damage the prospects of democratic institutions in Pakistan. It would have been much better if the political leadership had realised that a vast majority of the people want change in the present system, which would create opportunities for the common man and improve their living standards. But while the crowds may have provided deceptive signals to the leaders of different political parties, not one of them has provided correct answers to the challenges that confront the country today.

It is unfortunate that most of the political hierarchy is still following the age-old traditions where several promises are made, despite the fact that some of them may be impossible to fulfil. Against this backdrop, the politicians are neither doing any service for the teeming millions of Pakistan, nor making any positive contribution for the institution of democracy. In the coming days and weeks, more heat is expected to be generated and the crowds will, indeed, participate in the rallies without knowing their true fate after the next elections. One hopes that the politicians, more specifically those leading mainstream political parties, will make programmes that will help people to face the enormous challenges with courage and unity.

Anyway, since the election campaign has begun in some parts of the country, the cost is going to be enormous. However, such methods should be adopted that reduce the cost of the election campaigns. If this is not done then only the rich will be able to enter the Assemblies, depriving a large number of talented and educated people of their right to contest the elections.

As a final word, one hopes that the PPP-led government has a plan in which it will take into confidence all the political parties to evolve the rules of the game that would usher in progress and prosperity. If this is not done, it would lead to more chaos and despondency, which are in any case sure signs that the country will continue to be bogged down in the present mess and it may take a long time to emerge out of it.

    The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.

    Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com