Voting behaviour in Pakistan

M Nawaz Khan

Sunday, April 21, 2013 - Elections are around the corner in Pakistan. Pakistan has experienced eight general elections (also including those held during dictatorship era) as well as 1951-54 direct provincial Assemblies and indirect Presidential election during President Ayub’s era. Still Pakistan is in transitional phase and seeking to achieve a smooth and successful democratic system. So, it would not be an exaggeration to say that election system remained oscillatory since independence. Major stumbling block to the path of successful democracy is the lack of voter’s direction and clear political vision. On providing clarity to electorates by the political parties through transparent manifesto, only then the elected political party will be able to better serve the national interest rather than perusing vested interests of a few political elite.

The voting behavior of Pakistan is duly traced observing Pakistan’s electoral pattern in a historical perspective. Since long Pakistan society has been stuck in the whirlpool of feudalism, sardari pattern, tribal Malik and Biradaries’ system, religious factions, ethnicity, class structure, pressure and interest groups, etc. In pursuit of their own ideological consideration while supporting their respective political parties, these disgruntled elements influence the voting behavior in Pakistan. These are not only dominating the voters’ minds but also shaping their decisions to cast vote in their favour against the voter’s will. This politico domineering got more accelerated and strengthened during the era of non-political governments coupled with weak political ideology. The underlying bitter reality shows that most of the ‘Influenced Voters’ are not freely thinking while casting their votes, denying the very fact that the right to vote is a way of expressing one’s own choice or opinion, especially by officially marking a paper or by raising one’s hand. To sum up, voting behaviour is a set of attitudes and beliefs towards election at the national as well as at the local level.

While analyzing the voting pattern of the Pakistani society it comes out that the former stands fragmented as follows: a) Pakistan’s Ideological Vote backed by Muslim League which created Pakistan under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam, not the today’s Muslim League which is divided among “N”, “Q”, “F” etc., b) Bhutto’s charismatic slogan “Roti, Kapara or Makan Vote” led by Pakistan People’s Party during Bhutto’s era, c) Victim Vote (Bhutto’sShaheed Vote) slogan being exploited by Pakistan’s Peoples Party during 90’s and subsequently in the last general elections d) Religious Vote backed by all Pakistani religious parties, e) the so-called Moderate Vote claimed by MQM and ANP etc. and now recent slogan of change coined by PTI by the name of Naya Pakistan.

Now media has become an independent pillar of state in Pakistan. Media especially the social media has generated awareness among the electorates about their independent political rights, specifically among the Pakistani youth which consists of more than 60 percent of the total demography. However, partiality or biasedness of media cannot be overlooked. As there are evidences that media persons and journalists do have tilt and partisanship for one party or the other. Media can play its role by highlight and educating about the ethic of electioneering, rights and duties of voters, past tradition of casting vote etc.

As far as manifestos of the parties are concerned, they have remained failed in meeting the challenges and concerns of the Pakistani society in the wake of all the political and social problems of the Pakistani society particularly emerging serious energy crisis, ever spiralling inflation, nose-diving economy, unemployment, health facilities, flood and security situation, etc. In the wake of bleak situation, voter turnout has declined over the years due to poor performance in fact no performance of political parties when reach to power corridor. However, there are several causes of apathy towards political system which include mere sloganeering and rhetoric by politicians which leave younger voters disappointed and thus fanning a widespread feeling that politicians do not pay heed to the people’s concerns in general and to the youth’s issues in particular. It also arises a feeling within masses that there single vote would not make any difference.

In fact, politics is a process of decision-making and settling issues within a society. Thomas M Magstadt and Peter M Schotten explain politics as, “Politics is the process by which a community selects rulers and empowers them to make decisions, takes action to attain common goals, and reconciles conflicts within the community.” In this very regard mass political participation at grass root level is a key towards a success which gives a sense of ownership to the people while participating in decision-making process at local, union or tehsil levels. It would not only control the influenced pre-poll rigging but also gives realization and political awareness to electorates to cast their vote with full consciousness.

—The writer works for IPRI.

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