Friday, February 15, 2008

Ho-Hum Elections 2008

There are many reports from Pakistan indicating a general lack of visible enthusiasm on the streets in major cities with election 2008 only a few days away. This is in sharp contrast to prior elections when you could see a visible rise in mass rallies, big marches, personal outreach and candidate speeches on a daily basis in many parts of the big cities.

There could be several possible reasons for this absence of action and enthusiasm of previous elections. Here are a few:
1. Benazir Bhutto's assassination has had a chilling effect on street marches and rallies.
2. The multiplicity of public and private TV channels, a recent phenomenon since the last election in 2002, has moved the action from the street to the TV screen, more like the elections in the developed world. You can see quite a few political commercials and messages promoting various parties and their candidates.
3. The average people are just too disillusioned. They don’t believe anything will change for them regardless of who wins. They do not seem to feel they have a stake in the outcome.

I personally think it’s all of the above with #3 being the dominant reason.
Amidst all the cries for democracy, independent judiciary, human rights, and fair polls in Pakistan, most people believe nothing will change fundamentally on Feb 18. Regardless of the party labels and promises, the feudal power will endure in the name of democracy. The choices remain narrow for Pakistanis: Choose between military and the feudal class. There is no third choice as long as the middle class remains small and unable to exert any real influence. The only hope for real democracy lies in continued robust growth of the middle class over an extended period of time of another decade or two. There are no guarantees that feudal rulers will permit that.

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