It is true that in election campaigns the parties out of power launch blistering attacks on the party in power, but it seems that this trend during the current campaign, culminating in the May 11 election has been marked by two unfortunate trends. First, it ignores the fact that the party in office has been replaced by neutral caretaker governments. Any steps these caretakers do not reverse may be assumed to have been for the public good. Also, any criticism of the government would not be so much a criticism of the outgoing government as of the caretakers. There is probably no harm in criticising the caretakers thus by implication, but it means accusing them of the pointless activity of partisanship. More significantly, indulging in such rhetoric implies less time devoted to one’s own programme. Indeed, judging by what is being said by various party leaders, it almost seems as if their main argument for being elected is that they are not the other person. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Inssaf chief Imran Khan, for example, launched a stinging attack on both President Asif Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif, but without making it clear how he and his party would bring about the change he had promised. Similarly, Punjab PML-N chief Mian Shahbaz Sharif, while addressing a rally in Rajanpur, highlighted another danger when he said the country would be rid of the President, thieves and robbers on May 11. A presidential spokesman was responding to a speech of Mian Nawaz but he could equally have been answering Mian Shahbaz when he said that the President should not be made controversial. Mian Nawaz continued to attack Mr Zardari saying he had done nothing in his five years in office, while addressing a rally in Khudian Khas.

It would serve the parties better if they were a little more dignified in their critique, instead of resorting to crude language and incendiary sloganeering. Though they have all issued manifestoes, to which they duly pay obeisance in their speeches, their coyness on real issues can only raise the suspicion that they are continuing playing politics, of trying to obtain votes by appealing to prejudice rather than by presenting a programme. This would create the impression that they do not have anything to offer the voter by way of solution to his problems.

It is high time that the parties realised that the various problems faced by the county are such that it cannot afford this attitude of politics as usual. Instead, the parties must work out how to solve these problems workably, and present them to the voter so that he can make an informed and intelligent choice on May 11, not indulge his partisan prejudices.