Anxiety, a ‘wounded’ military and the election build-up
December 26, 2007
Author: Haroon Ullah, Former Research Fellow, The Dubai Initiative
The electoral season is in full swing in Pakistan , and politicians are scrambling to rally support for their candidacy. Driving around Lahore , one sees a multitude of political party candidate signs and banners littering the major roadways. From rickshaw drivers to shop owners, everyone seems to have an opinion. Many people seem to have fallen back on their older affiliations and preferences with either the PPP or PML-N. Riyaz, a rickshaw driver claimed to be a longtime PPP supporter since "Bhutto is my leader", while Fatima , a shopkeeper asserted that "Sharif is Pakistan 's only hope", touting Nawaz Sharif's infrastructure accomplishments while PM of Pakistan.
Comparing the two major parties, the PPP looks to have a stronger party structure, with more party offices and networks in rural areas than the PML-N. Much of this has to do with the historical organizational legacies of the parties, as well as the fact that PML-N and Nawaz Sharif have gotten a late start to preparing for this election. For example, Bhutto and the PPP have done a solid job of advertising their rallies through party networks, adding 16 more public meetings and election rallies after the Eid holidays in the Punjab region alone. It is unclear whether the political parties will be able to increase the overall turnout compared to past elections. Will the parties be able to bring newer constituencies to the ballot box? In previous elections (2002), many districts hovered around a 50% turnout. Sharif recently commented in a local paper that PML-N party machinery is running overtime to try to reach out to voters in the last few weeks leading up to the January 8 th election This, compounded with the perception of anticipated power sharing between the PPP and PML-Q and the fact Sharif will not be allowed to run in the election has made PML-N the anti-establishment party in the elections.
One major institution that has no doubt suffered large reputational costs is the military. The anti-Musharraf and by extension anti-military sentiment is high, in the wake of actions with the judiciary and media. Surprisingly, few people have outwardly voiced support for the PML-Q. Some media outlets (such as GEO TV), despite the lifting of the emergency have not been allowed to operate. Most significantly however, were the claims by Pakistanis that the military was now being used on the civilian population. In conversations people constantly bring up scenes they have seen on TV with regards to Lal Masjid and the Karachi incidents. The Pakistan military has often projected itself as protecting the vanguard rights of the Pakistani nation and defending the country against external threats (such as India). With the military now being seen in a more negative light, my sense is that General Kiyani will take steps to shore up the public image of the military, potentially starting with managing the aftermath of the upcoming election.
For more information about this publication please contact the Project on India and the Subcontinent Events Coordinator.
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