Pakistan’s 2013 General Election: New Trends

Spearhead Analysis – 22.05.2013

Pakistan 2013 General ElectionsPakistan’s historic 2013 General Election marked a first transition between elected governments. This election was also marked by a massive 60% voter turnout against the previous high of 44%. A segment of the population that usually stayed away from polling booths braved the heat and dust to stand in queues and vote. This is a new trend as was the use of technology and the media. The results also indicate a marked regional trend in voting patterns. The driver behind these trends was the desire for change and it is certain that these trends will be become stronger in the future.

Pakistan’s 2013 General Election was a close contest between the ruling PPP and the main opposition party the PML(N) and the new political force on the scene – the PTI of the cricket hero turned politician Imran Khan. The PML(N) won hands down with a significant majority. The PPP got relegated to the province of Sind and the PTI to Khyber Pakhtun Khwa. More interesting is the fact that voter participation was the highest ever and that people indicated a strong desire to be involved in the political process – both in the urban and rural areas and among all age groups.

The enhanced voter participation is a sign of growing political maturity and a new sense of being actively involved in the entire spectrum of activities that constitute the political process. There have been allegations of rigging and other unlawful activities and calls for recounts and verification but the basic outcome of the election is not in doubt The turnout at political rallies was massive in spite of the threat and the random acts of violence. It is clear that people participated whole heartedly and this enthusiasm is not likely to waver in the future – it will certainly increase.

A new phenomenon is the provincial focus in voting patterns. The PPP and the MQM have scored in Sind – their home base. The PML(N) got most of its votes in the Punjab. The PTI and JUI(F) won in KPK as did local regional parties in Baluchistan. This poses a new challenge for the ruling party—strengthening and ensuring political and national cohesion.

This phenomenon of people power and people understanding their power has been a prominent characteristic of the movements in the Middle East collectively labeled the Arab Spring. The sight of soldiers and tanks standing by while political activity raged in Cairo’s Tahrir Square defined not just the power of public opinion but also the power of the media. The internet and the social media have emerged as powerful tools and as technology improves we will see more and more sophistication and professionalism in future election campaigns and political movement. It is now up to the political parties to identify, understand these trends and develop strategies to harness and exploit them.

The traditional rallies, meetings and political contacts will not vanish from the scene but given the specter of violence and the threat of assassinations and kidnappings (former Prime Minister Gilani’s son was kidnapped from a political meeting and remains untraced) there will be more and more usage of the media and the internet. The perception that turnout at rallies or the volume of messages on the internet and social media does not translate into actual votes will have to be re-evaluated – it does translate into votes.

Increasingly political parties will have to find innovative ways to reach the voter and these need not be expensive. Paid electronic media content can be expensive and exploitative therefore more and more intensive and sophisticated use of the internet and social media will be the preferred option. We may well see the advent of professional campaign planners and managers as is the norm in the developed world.

In tandem with this trend will be an increasing urge for citizen participation and the desire of people to have a say in their destiny. Having voted a political party or parties into power they will not be content to just sit back and watch for the next five years. They will use the power that technology gives them to make their views known and to ask for change if they find they are not getting what they voted for. This means a much more interactive political process than before. The endless debates on the media and the sermons from wise anchors, analysts and experts are getting tiresome for the people – they want dynamism in their environment and visible kinetic movement.

Political leaders in and out of government need to heed the trends and what these mean so that their policies and actions can be responsive and timely. If they do not prepare for the future they may well be taken by surprise. People power is here and it is here to stay. This change in the political landscape is welcome and augers well for the future of democracy in Pakistan.

(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual).