These are strange times indeed, when a political leader insults his rival’s supporters by calling them “donkeys” and the gravity of this slur is analysed in the courts to determine whether it falls in indecent language. Perhaps this mere fact is an accurate reflection of how bizarre this election season is, and how polarised the political situation in Pakistan has become.

Politics in Pakistan had always been a dirty game. However, this election season havs seen a considerable deterioration in the public manners and language that politicians employ towards each other: full of insults, put-downs and personal attacks levied at each other’s rivals. Religion, caste and gender are additional tools to use to unleash vicious campaigns at the others expense. No more do politicians attempt to put on a civilised facade; derogatory language is now the popular medium of communication.

Just on Thursday, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued notices to three politicians for using abusive language during their election. These were not low-profile candidates but top leadership of established parties, including former Chief Minister of KPK, Pervaiz Khattak, and National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq.

Many would point fingers at Imran Khan for this loss in civility, because of his overly aggressive speaking style, and frequent use of colloquial insults. This harsh style may have contributed to his loss of approval among more progressive circles; in contrast, Bilawal Bhutto is enjoying a surge in popularity perhaps due to his more obvious courtesy and diplomacy.

The emphasis on civility can understandably seem annoying and distracting when there are such important and passion-inducing issues facing the country. Yet, lack of civility damages our level of debate and politics far more. Important problems like unemployment and water shortage will never come to surface if politicians are employed in a mud-slinging contest of personal attacks and uncivilised rhetoric.