Author: Sahib Khan, May 10 2017 - For the first time, the second-elected Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N)-led government in Pakistan is completing its constitutional tenure in Pakistan, and the next elections are expected to be held in mid-2018. Earlier, the elected Pakistan People’s Party (PPP)-led government made history by completing its first constitutional tenure in Pakistan from 2008 to 2013. The PML-N and the PPP are two major parties in Pakistan, and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) emerged as 3rd political party in elections of 2013.
As days of elections are coming nearer, every party is making its strategy to win the elections and form the government. The winning strategy being adopted by every party planning to participate in upcoming elections is to assimilate winning “horses” (candidates) in different provinces, especially rural areas of Pakistan.
Even the PTI leadership has started to follow the same strategy and started to contact different winning candidates and hold meetings with them to formally ask them to join their party - PTI. PTI Chief cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan formed the party with the slogan of change and claimed not to do traditional politics as other parties are doing it. Reverting to traditional politics of the status quo or recognition of realities on the ground, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) now plans to participate in the next elections with winning horses at the forefront. The party (PTI) appears ready to assimilate individuals who have strong personal clout in their constituencies to maximise strength in national and provincial legislatures necessary to form the government.
Such a trend of politics has long been seen in Pakistan where new parties form but mostly with the same winning candidates who are seen changing their loyalty and affiliation from one party to another. So, many politicians are expected to change their loyalty in the future.
The winning candidates have huge influence in their respective constituencies and its whole economy because of holdings of huge agriculture lands and private businesses as well, where the majority of local people are their either peasants or workers. Those people are directly or indirectly hired by winning candidates. Former Chief Minister Sindh and PML-N leader Ghous Ali Shah admitted this fact during the campaign of 2013, saying, "We have to form government and we need winning candidates and winning candidates can be those who have thousands acres of agriculture land in their constituency because majority of local people would be peasants harvesting his land." When media persons asked why people are nominating the persons from the feudal or landlords’ community who do not do better for people, especially the poor, Shah replied that the party had to form government, and it compelled them to field the winning candidates in the elections of 2013. Winning candidates not only have influence over their respective constituency and its economy but also government machineries like district governments, especially Police and other institutions, achieved by getting their close relatives or aides appointed.
Pakistan inherited feudal system from the British Raj. The majority of feudal or landlords are Sardars - Tribal heads (Chieftains of their tribe or clan), and it is a heredity positon. Everybody from the tribe or clan is supposed to obey the orders of their Sardars. Winning candidates from their clan can lend due or undue favours to the constituency members in what is commonly called kucheri (Courts) or thana (Police Station) matters, and, thus, it does not matter to voters whether candidates have an ability to deliver in policymaking.
Candidates who have a long experience of participating in elections have developed a nexus with local power brokers at unions and village levels rather than among lower-tier voters. If any candidate is interested in running for office, he must have influence in his constituency and be able to talk against other influential persons. After winning elections, landlords, clan leaders and politicians start to make themselves strong by accumulating more wealth through different ways, whether wrong or right, to ensure their victory in their elections in future. Due to this, the voter has almost no freedom to make independent choices about voting and even other personal matters.
Proof of this is the report “Profiles of Land Tenure System in Pakistan” authored by former Technical Advisor to Chief Minister Sindh, Dr Kaiser Bengali in 2015. The report says that the unequal distribution of assets ensures the economic dominance of the feudal-tribal class, and the socio-political order continuously reinforces their power over the people. Members of feudal-tribal families are or have been leading office-bearers in all political parties and/or members of national and/or provincial legislatures, and/or ministers or advisors in the government. The feudal-tribal chieftains enjoy de facto judicial powers and preside over jirgas and pass judgments on disputes, ensuring the continuation of the feudal-tribal order, which rules with an iron hand in rural Pakistan.
Prior to the establishment of the district government system in 2002, the Commissionerate system ensured that there was a countervailing administrative and judicial locus of power in relation to the political power of the feudal-tribal elite. The system introduced in 2002 concentrated administrative, judicial, and political authority and provided the feudal-tribal chieftains unchecked monopoly of power vis-à-vis the people at large. Effectively, the administrative and judicial structure of government became formally subservient to the political class in the district.
Further, the report states, “The lack of employment and educational opportunities in secondary urban areas and the substandard quality of civic services therein has failed to create the pull effect for the rural population to break out of the feudal-tribal stranglehold.” However, the 2010 floods that washed away most of the villages presented opportunities to rebuild planned villages on high ground and with drainage to protect villages from future flooding. However, the feudal-tribal leadership opposed relocating the villages as they would lose control over their workforce, vote banks and most of their debts, it stated.
This feudal system has been going on since the British Era. Because there is not an alternative for common people, they are becoming prey to religious groups working in the different areas in country where the religious groups have given some relief to them. But such affiliations are promoting religious extremism and intolerance in the society. This trend is unlikely to change until the voter is fully empowered economically and socially in rural areas of Pakistan. Local voters can be empowered through education and land reforms as the majority of voters live rural areas, and these changes can bring change in the system. Large landholdings should be distributed among landless farmers and an atmosphere of land equality should be created to make farmers more prosperous.
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