Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Politics: "Personality Based" or "Party Based"?

Politics in Pakistan is a well known tangle of confusion, lies, deception, favoritism and broken promises. Anything that goes wrong, be it your boss really angry at you when a colleague revealed your secret or you’re next in line for team’s captaincy and someone ‘less worthy’ is favored over you, politics is to blame.

In my experience of both urban Karachi and rural Sindh I came across two distinct forms of commercial politics (politicians are contractual employees, aren’t they?). The personality based politics has strong roots in the countryside where, in a given area, a certain landlord will hold most influence. No matter which party he chooses or even decides to stand as an independent candidate, the votes in his locality will go to him (debatable if it’s by love or by force). This gives the candidate bargaining power and he chooses party that benefits him the most or to whom he’s most loyal.

In similar fashion the party based politics has strong base in Karachi and maybe urban centers like Lahore as well. The party chooses its candidates and probably the seats as well on which they fight during elections. How much the people have their say or how much the candidates have the bargaining power, it is debatable since every party has its own rules and policies. Whether in your locality an unknown person rises up to participate in elections or a personality you know very well and respect, it is up to the party to nominate the candidates.

We have seen effects of both political styles on local, national and international level and have examples to show who people vote and who they would not when given the choice. We have seen ‘Jamshed Dasti’ winning election from Southern Punjab again after resigning despite having fake degree, and we have seen an unknown figure ‘Syed Mustafa Kamal’ rising out towards fame when MQM nominated him against the veteran politician ‘Naimatullah Khan’. Despite having no distinguished record of politics and Naimatullah’s recent completion of term as Mayor Karachi, Mustafa Kamal became second mayor of Karachi in an era of construction blitzkrieg which he further sped up, resulting in a change of face for several areas of the largest city of Pakistan.

Both politicians were supported by their respective people that prove the distinct forms of political practices prevalent in their respective constituencies. Comparing to other countries we often find some similarities and many differences to the way politicians are recognized. Very few people must have missed ‘Barak Obama’s’ rise to presidency where he had charmed the American people so much that he earned victory against ‘Hillary Clinton’ to become lead nominee for ‘Democratic Party’ and faced the ‘Republican Party’ nominee ‘John McCain’ in the final showdown. From his early days as community organizer and civil rights attorney to state senator and then President, a clear line of political ascendance can be traced down to its roots. The U.S political system comprising of Senators might be slow but has the clarity to rip the politician down to his/her bare essence.

In Pakistan however, our Presidents are military usurpers, backdoor entrants, puppets and ceremonial figureheads chosen to smile and nod to show ‘aal iz vell’ in the country. Can there be a possibility for evolution of Pakistani politics where politicians are ripped to their essence and their worth is judged by 180 million (and counting) Pakistanis? If so, will it be the urban ‘Party based’ or rural ‘Personality based’ that will dominate the field?

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