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VIEW: Beyond Hype, Hyperbole & Hysteria: A Politicians Guide


An aspiring beauty queen’s agenda typically involves an impassioned plea for world peace perhaps to score better with the jury. The homily remains a moving sound bite; the coronation makes a lovely ‘photo-op’.

Political pageantry is our version of such contests. Most promises made during the campaign trails are minimal in terms of any meaningful dialogue, rhetorical in principle with little relevance to reality. And such oblique vows are expected to win seats in the assemblies. These amateur renditions had earlier resonated with the masses. However, mapping the next campaign on this ancient trail may not be best policy in the year 2008.

Though Pakistan emulates the British parliamentary system to an extent, it has been remiss in cultivating their singular style of political culture where party mandates must be solid enough to withstand an obligatory public grilling. Quite possibly this batch of candidates contesting the National Assembly and Provincial Assembly seats next year, have ‘majored’ in the primitive ‘slogan and speech’ campaign style yet again. Such an approach unfortunately remains the mainstay of our political setup, instead of the more mature employment of ‘informed debate’. Ours is an aging political system that patronizes recycled politicians be they corrupt, exiled or both. Furthermore, by not properly opening up party manifestos to a more vigorous public scrutiny, the electoral process becomes a charade rather than a venue of serious decision-making. Confining political activities to the streets alone wrests the power to exercise good judgment away from a great many stakeholders.

The next elections are around the bend in which imported transparent ballot boxes, trained staff and international observers’ with the ability to monitor the process will allegedly ensure the required transparency. The final list of candidates is set to go on display by 16th Dec 2007. Naturally, these schedules could be subject to some changes in the currently unsettled political climate. Nevertheless, Pakistani politicians should consider refining the nature and scope of their campaign, considering that the masses have become politically savvy, with a keen appetite for healthy debate and a newly sharpened ability to see through ‘smoke and mirrors’. The unforgiving lens of our media ‘formerly known as independent’ is partly responsible for this seismic shift in public perception, as is globalization. The upshot of this revolution is that this generation, being more attuned to their civil rights, holds leaders to more exacting standards. Moreover, having a voice that can carry through cyber-space and via media airwaves makes them more opinionated than their predecessors.

As the nation prepares for the military rule to phase out eventually in favor of a more popular democracy, the safest and most effective approach to launching a political campaign could be from a platform that offers maximum exposure with minimum risk. Ideally, enlightening debates and not hollow sermons should be the cornerstone of the 2007-2008 campaign with media playing a key part. This will get candidates away from grandstanding to cheering crowds to confront the burning issues. The idea can work when professional, non-partisan moderators desist from long-drawn-out preambles and prevent such events from degenerating into dreary catfights. The presence of emails, live phone-ins, text messages makes such an interaction both practical for media forums and convenient for the public.

With all the hopefuls lined up on the media centre-stage it would be easier to establish their level of commitment based upon a review of actual strategy rather than the emotional appeal they conjure up with their traditional rallying cries of poverty alleviation, universal health care, economic empowerment etc. While people acknowledge that candidates would not always be able to provide an exact roadmap or timeframe to the promised utopia, they do expect a convincing framework that holds the illusion together.

Even before the casting of any votes, the international media seems to have picked out Pakistan’s next Prime Minister. Already in this changing political reality, impressive looking turnouts at rallies alone may neither be precursors to victory nor truly indicative of a particular party’s widespread popularity. The political progression, however, could ultimately single out the true front-runners and more importantly, induce more people to abandon the position of indifferent spectator and assume one of concerned stakeholder instead.

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