Thursday, February 21, 2008

Is this the most absurd article on the Pakistani elections?

Jason Burke of The Guardian in a humdinger of an article examines the Pakistani elections. A few of his sagely insights are reproduced for your enlightenment herein under.

"You might notice the number of new factories, the cheap concrete "shopping malls" with their tile and glass facades and the swarms of Suzuki Mehrans, the tiny four door car which is Pakistan's best-selling vehicle. It is this that explains one major trend in Pakistan's politics which has slightly drowned in the alphabet soup of all the parties and sub-parties over the last days: the broad success of the Pakistan Muslim League. Though the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party seems set to just win the largest single number of seats in the national assembly, in many ways it is the PML – which is likely to unify its two main factions in the near future – that is more tapped in to the deeper currents in Pakistan. After all, the opposition PML faction barely had enough time to organise candidates for all national seats. And even though half its leadership was based overseas until very recently, it still did almost as well as the PPP."

Ah, indeed. How could I have forgotten the mega projects initiated by Nawaz that led to Pakistan becoming an economic prowess, stupid Musharraf had to come in and ruin the fun. This explains why Musharraf is not credited with the economic successes of the last few years!

How could I be so naive to imagine the PML(Q) to not be a faction of the PML(N)? How could I be so stupid to not regard the PML(Q) as a political party but rather a marraige of convenience that sought to capitalise on the goodwill associated with the name Pakistan Muslim League and Quaid-e-Azam (Quaid-e-Azam)? Why, oh God, why?

"The PPP and the PML broadly represent two different faces of Pakistan, and the election maths shows clearly which way the country is heading.

"The classic PML voter is urban, lower middle class, relatively educated, with a world-view informed by Pakistani nationalism and a very contemporary moderate

"These people are likely to personify the modern Pakistani, if such a person exists.

"And there are millions of them, in all the main cities, in Karachi, in Lahore, in Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Hyderabad and Islamabad."

And there I was thinking that the PML (N) failed to win a single seat in Sindh and Baluchistan, and only a handful in the NWFP regions that border Punjab. That the PML(Q) would not control Baluchistan if Baluch leaders weren't hiding in the mountains of Iran or under detention in Britain. I'm such a 'tard!

"By contrast, the PPP's voter, by and large, lives in a different world, a world that was dominant up to a decade ago. It is a world that is much more rural, more deferential, more rooted in tradition. Its nationalism is less marked and its Islam less influenced by the international trends of the last 30 years and thus much less politicised and much more based in centuries-old Sufi traditions.

"This is a Pakistan that is disappearing. One PPP candidate in rural Punjab recognised this last week, telling me that his party needed to "re-invent itself". Unless it does, it will soon find itself entirely reduced to the poor, rural southern province of Sindh. The PPP's showing in this election has been distorted by a variety of positive and negative factors: the death of their leader, the multiple splits of the PML, the vote against those politicians tarnished by their association with President Pervez Musharraf and the unpopularity of the party's new chief, Bhutto's widower."

I mean it's disappeared so much that it only managed to win a seat in all four provinces and gain a sizeable majority. I mean having an overwhelming majority in the second largest province of the country really is unsubstantial. The much closer ties that the PPP enjoys with the leading politicians of Balushistan and NWFP is inconsequential.

Ok so maybe Jason Burke you do have a point but for the love of God do not start by telling me that the PML(N) is a representative of urban, moderate political thought that has wide spread national support.

You can view the full article here.

(Courtesy The Guardian)


Riaz Haq said...

I think the thrust of Jason Burke's contention is that the combined PML (N and Q) is much larger in terms of vote received and seats won. It is also true that PPP's vote bank is mostly rural whereas the PML has more urban, middle class support. I agree with both of these points. However, you are correct in pointing out that PPP has won seats in every province, an indication of its national character. So both parties are in need of expanding their base to become truly representative of Pakistan in all its facets: rural vs urban, provincial vs national etc.

Ahsan said...

chill out aks, all the guy is saying is that the PPP's primary vote bank is rural areas and the pml's primary vote bank is middle class urban areas (note, this is different from saying that the primary party for middle-class urbanites is the PML-N). these facts are largely true. i read the piece yesterday and i personally thought it was quite good in the middle (the beginning and end were admittedly kind of dumb).

shariq said...

aks, thanks for confirming the misgivings i had about this article when i read it the first time.

ahsan and riaz are right that he makes a couple of decent points. what really irks though is the style he writes it in, trying to draw out big macro-trends on some pretty irrelevant anecdotes and a quick glance at the election results.

it doesn't even consider that if you add up (n) and (q) you had pretty similar election results in the 1990's as well. also, karachi may be a wildcard but its also the biggest city. if pml(n) was really some great urban party it would win seats in karachi, hyderabad, peshawar and quetta as well.

the more obvious conclusion to draw would be that (n) was the party of the urban punjabi.

the worst part is that he acknowledges the ethnic splits but chooses to ignore them as they because that probably doesn't tell as good of a story.

btw, wasn't jason burke's al-qaeda book supposed to be brilliant?

bubs said...

The main problem with this article is that Burke is trying to superimpose the British political framework on Pakistani politics, with the PML-N in the role of the Tories and PPP as Labour. The problem with that is that, unlike Britain, ethnicity has always trumped class in Pakistan.

Anonymous said... - A better piece on the elections from Guardian - CiF. I probably think so because it resonates a bit with what I feel.