Since both Pakistan and Sweden have general elections this summer, their countries’ main political issues will be focused on, so that the voters can choose between the political parties. Sweden’s election is on 9 September, and politicians who want voters to come to the polls say that it is a destiny election, ‘ödesval’ in Swedish. Well, every parliamentary election may be given such a name, and then, when it is all over, the new government may show that little changes, even if it leads to change of government.

It is encouraging witnessing that in Sweden, young people, and a high number of young voters, are more interested in politics than in several decades – and at the same time, the respect for the political parties is lower than before. That could mean that voters go to ‘untraditional’ parties, notably more extreme ones on the far right or left. Nowadays, it is not the far left parties that are in vogue in Europe, as was the case when I was young in the 1960s and 1970s; it is the right-wing parties that attract dissatisfied people of any age. In Sweden, the right-wing party is the Sweden Democrats (SD), which is well represented in parliament already, and may gain up to twenty per cent of the vote. But the established parties do not want to deal with them. The same it was with the Communist parties in most Western European countries earlier on, but they never gained similar support in many countries.

In Pakistan, it seems that it is only PTI –party of the former cricket hero Imran Khan– that attracts the youth, and the younger generation considers it a modern party; however, contrary to what the youth believes the party is both populist and traditional. I am sure PTI will do well in the elections planned for 24 July, but the party may need to cooperate with one or more other parties in the provinces and nationally to gain power.

In future elections, maybe in five years or more likely in ten years, I believe that the PPP party again may be experiencing a revival, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari will still be a very young leader that time. This time around, Bilawal is too young, and his father, former president and co-leader of PPP, Asif Ali Zardari is seen as having too much baggage, yet, most candidates are said to be from his wing. PPP can become the leftist, social-democratic party of Pakistan, well, unless also PTI wants to take that mantle. I believe it would be after Imran Khan since it demands a more principled foundation.

On the right, there will always be PML (N), good for the business people of the country’s most populous province of Punjab and elsewhere. I am not sure the youth sees PML (N) as a party they can comfortably identify with; that is PTI this time, and next time also PPP – and by then, Imran Khan’s ageing may begin to show.

The smaller political parties also play important roles in politics of the country, such as the Awami National Party (ANP) party in KPK, on the left, and the principled Islamic parties mainly in Sindh, and the Balochistan National Party (BNP-M). They have principled and experienced politicians, and other parties can draw lessons from their work in sun and rain.

In Pakistan, it seems difficult to establish new parties based on ideologies, visions and plans; it seems that the parties must be formed around a personality, and from then, second, the political direction is developed. I wish parties could be more centred on ideology, even in our pragmatic and technocratic time. I believe ideology ‘light’ combined with clear strategies and action-plans would do the trick. Today, political parties don’t seem to like to single out a limited number of areas where they will promise results by the end of the parliamentary term, such as, for example, compulsory primary school for all say between 5-14 years of age; 2-3 years vocational training for a high number, support systems for establishment of new and innovative companies would be another field, and better health services for all. That would certainly lead to visible and lasting improvement for the country, and it would place Pakistan at par with other countries in the modern times.

In Pakistan – and in Sweden – the key issue is still class differences, the gap between the relatively few rich, those in the middle, and those at the bottom who fall outside. In Sweden, it is common to talk about a percentage-divide of 20-60-20, but the problem is that the middle and the lower segments grow, and some at the bottom never enter or fall permanently outside mainstream society. The latter group includes some immigrants, indigenous Swedes of parents who have used drugs or lived outside mainstream society themselves, and other youth who cannot make it in the competitive world at secondary school; some may even think it is easier to take government allowances than to work – realizing too late in life that they will ‘miss the train’ for good, unable to board later in life when they would like to. Crime is also growing, especially with the use of weapons, but not as much as the media make us believe. The Swedish economy is doing very well.

In Pakistan, the class differences are grave, but not talked much about as a structural problem. Somehow, we seem to accept that a small upper class with an upper-middle class run affairs, with landowners, industrialists, foreign and local capital, and export of a lot of Pakistan’s wealth, never to be returned to where people’s sweat and underpaid work generated it. We somehow seem to say, yes, this is how Pakistan is. But until it is focused on politically, indeed by labour unions, not just in a few newspaper columns, books and research reports, the issue will not be focused on seriously. Pakistan’s class problem is will continue to hinder the country’s real progress and people’s rights.

In Sweden, the issue is talked about, and even ‘Moderaterna’, the conservative-centrist party, uses the word ‘class’. Last week, the leader Ulf Kristersson, in a speech at Järvaveckan summer rally in Stockholm, spoke about the ‘class journey’, which could be translated as the ‘Swedish dream’ of social mobility, where one can move from lower class, from relative poverty, low paid jobs, cramped housing, and so on, to the middle classes of the land. He used himself as an example, with his grandfather who was a smallholder farmer and a grandmother who was a maid, to his father who was a carpenter and mother a science teacher; she was the first in her family to have taken the university entrance exam and study. Then, to Kristersson’s generation, where he could choose what to read at secondary school and university; he became an economist, marrying a woman with a similar education. In his speech that I mentioned, he also referred to the important Swedish vocational and engineering training programme from the 1950s. He stood at a rostrum where the party slogan was: ‘equality for all’.

(Incidentally, Kristersson’s wife, Birgitta Ed, who is now close to 50, has decided that she wants to go back to university and change career; she wants to move away from being a consultant, training people in business, to reading theology and become a preacher of religion and values. What a great land, giving people, such a chance, to add competence and get new skills, even mid-way through life!)

I have said that in Europe, indeed in Sweden, we talk more about class differences than we do in Pakistan where it would be even more important to talk about today. But the Swedes too should talk more about class, the way they did in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the 1950s and 1960s, the heydays of the Social Democratic Party and social democrats all over Western Europe, sometimes with socialist leaning, even communist ideals, although the pragmatic Swedes would never be too leftist!

But the importance of the having an ideology with an understanding of class differences was essential for the more equal societies that were built in Western Europe, indeed in Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia. It is with that success as proof that I also suggest that Pakistan must work politically towards reducing the structural class differences, towards greater equality and towards making the ‘class journey’ that the Conservative Swedish PM candidate, Ulf Kristersson’s family, made over a few generations – and which the sitting PM Stefan Löfven has also made in his lifetime – from his single mother having to give up custody of him to foster parents, till he today is the country’s leader. Löfven spoke about that last week, too. Let me tell you more about his fascinating story another time. Today, let us remember: class differences are not eternal; they can be changed through political will and action, leading to development and prosperity for all.


The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.