Monday, 10 October 2011

How Imran Can Sink Pakistan

Imran Khan is the only hope for this country. He will save us from total doom by sweeping the next elections. This is the information that is constantly being hammered into our heads by most media sources. This article is about an alternative post-election scenario which is much more likely to materialize but receives absolutely no mention in the media.

Imran believes or at least he wants us to believe that he can win 172 seats in the next general election to get an absolute majority in a parliament of 342. He will then become prime minister, fix everything in 90 days and Pakistanis will live happily ever after. Let us take a look at the past and present to assess how plausible his claim really is.

In the 1997 elections Imran Khan contested from seven constituencies and lost them all. This was only 5 years after "he won us the world cup."

In the 2002 elections held under Musharraf,  his party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI ) fielded around 100 candidates but won a single seat in the national assembly. PTI polled only 0.8% of the national votes. It is also important to recall that his love affair with Musharraf was live and kicking at the time which may have boosted his vote count to this level.

In 2008, PTI boycotted the general elections. The party has however participated in the by-elections held in 2010 in Lahore, Mansehra and Rawalpindi and failed to win a seat. There is no reason to believe that his showing in the 2008 elections would have been any different had he participated. The boycott saved him another embarrassment.

So what can we expect in 2013 (or 2012?). Imran will tell us that a lot has changed in the last 10 years. People now understand that all the political parties in Pakistan are equally corrupt. That they are two faces of the same coin and a load  of other cliches that lump every body but him into the same bundle of trash. His supporters will quote online polls which show him to be the most popular political leader in Pakistan. Media will show him addressing large crowds and have us believe that his sweeping victory is all but etched in stone. Let us however logically analyze what really has changed and what really determines the outcome of elections in Pakistan.

Electoral success in Pakistan is not a simple matter especially in the rural areas which comprises more than 70% of the Pakistani population. A lot depends on the biradri system, the local chaudhrys, the jagirdars, the wadairas and the khans. Unless you have them on your side your success is highly unlikely. Nothing in the last 10 years has changed that could give us hope of anything different transpiring in the next elections. The literacy rate remains low and there have been no election reforms. These influential landlords are not a part of PTI.

A key component of electoral success in Pakistan has been the support of the establishment. Now this is a tricky one. Anybody with an insight into Pakistani politics will tell you that at the moment Imran Khan is enjoying great support from the establishment. However you need to ask yourself this question. Does the establishment really want to impose Imran Khan upon themselves? Does the establishment really want an end to the status quo? The absurdity of this idea becomes obvious if you look up the definitions of "establishment" and "status quo." So why is the establishment propping him up when they don't really want him to succeed? This is the crux of this article and will become abundantly clear if you read on.

The online polls, the surveys, comments posted on Facebook, feedback echoed by the media all reflect the opinion of the urban elite who will contribute very little to the contents of the ballot boxes. Not only because they are greatly outnumbered by the rural masses but also because these people will not bother to cast their vote when the day is actually upon them. They will sit in their homes watching TV because it is "unsafe" to go out or because it is too hot and the lines are too long. In summary, there is no reason to expect anything different this time around no matter what Imran, his supporters or the media will have us believe.

We will now analyze the most likely post election scenarios. For the reasons presented above the scenario where PTI wins 172 seats giving them an absolute majority in the assembly and making Imran Khan the prime minister is highly unlikely.

Now let us consider the alternate scenario which I consider to be orders of magnitude more likely. Beware this is a scary one. To begin with, we accept that Imran Khan has increased his vote bank 25 times over the last 10 years and now commands about 20% of the total popular vote up from 0.8% in 2002. But does this mean that he will win 20% of all seats in the national assembly? The answer is an emphatic no!  Imran's popularity is distributed all over the country. While you will find his supporters anywhere and everywhere, the critical mass required in any given constituency will remain elusive. Getting 10,000 or 15,000 votes in a constituency will not win him a seat. Therefore, when the numbers finally come in, Imran will have no more than 10% seats in the national assembly of 342. Why is this a scary scenario? Isn't it great that Imran, our savior, has finally made a big breakthrough in Pakistani Politics? Sadly, no. To understand why we must look at where the 20% votes that he bags are coming from.

The next elections will be about change. They will be about booting out PPP and giving someone else a chance. They will be PPP vs The Rest. Don't think that after an excruciating 5 years of darkness and despair nobody is going to vote for the PPP. There is a constant to their support base that is immune to any amount of evidence of corruption, nepotism, mismanagement and incompetence. Overwhelming evidence of this was recently seen in the results of the Azad Kashmir elections. The first decision facing the voter at the box will be to vote for or against the PPP. There is not much that can be said or done about people who still choose to vote for the PPP. Instead we focus our attention on those who decide to vote against. The choices before them are numerous. PML (N), PTI, ANP, MQM, JI and a dozen others. With each of these parties contesting on its own, there is going to be a division of votes among them. Since MQM and ANP are regional parties and current allies of PPP, we will ignore their effect for the time being. The anti-PPP vote will be split among the remaining parties Consider this example as a typical case. The PTI gets 15,000 votes in a particular constituency, PML(N) gets 20,000, JI gets 4000 but the PPP bags the seat having polled 21,000 votes! 65% votes polled against the PPP and yet the party wins the seat. This is the scary scenario that every one should consider going into the elections. This is not a fictional story, it is a very real possibility. We have already seen this effect in every election that the PPP has won in the history of Pakistan. Another 5 years for the PPP is something too painful to even imagine. If that happens.... If that happens ..... , I dare not complete the sentence. This is how Imran can sink Pakistan.

For completeness let us look at a third scenario, not very likely but important to illustrate another point. Here PTI does even better and manages to secure 40% of the popular vote. They manage to get 30% seats in the parliament with the PPP and PML (N) each getting 25%. Now what would be Imran's next move? Imran firmly believes that both these parties are "equally corrupt". How will he then form a government in this case? Inevitably he will have to choose one or the other. If there is any sanity left in him then it has to be the other.

If you have followed Imran's cricketing career, you know that he demands total control and nothing less is acceptable. He has a gigantic ego and if you need proof  then you must have missed his 1992 world cup victory speech. In his eyes. everyone is either corrupt or incompetent except those who choose to join him. Imran has been focusing all his energies on maligning the PML (N). If you listen to his tirades against PML (N) and Nawaz Sharif on any TV news channel it appears that this is the greatest problem facing our nation today. He would briefly mention the corruption of Zardari, the killings and extortion of MQM and the flip-flopping of PML (Q) and Mutahidda but the bulk of his venom will be reserved for the party that is not even part of the federal government. He is making a conscious effort to target one party and its leadership that would be his most likely coalition partner in a post election scenario. Imran's sees a monster when he looks at someone who threatens his leadership. Going back to his cricketing days, his relationship with Javed Miandad is a prime example of this phenomenon. Miandad was a team man who made a huge contribution to Imran's success as captain. Yet Imran always saw him as a threat and never wasted an opportunity to undercut his stature. This same phenomenon is at work here.

Imran Khan needs to calm down and seriously reconsider his approach. He is being propped up and encouraged by the establishment to fly solo. This does not mean that the establishment wants to see him in power. They just want to insure that a split mandate and an impotent government results from the elections that can be twisted and molded as required. The election out come will be fairly obvious to those who choose to analyze the situation logically and not emotionally. Those who choose to ignore facts on the ground and hang on to hope will be terribly disappointed. Not only are they in for a big surprise when the ballot boxes are opened, they will pay for their shortsightedness for another 5 years.

There is a need for an alliance or at least seat adjustment among anti-PPP parties that agree on a basic national agenda. Unless this happens, the next elections may bring us further despair and gloom.

1 comment:

  1. Great thought provoking analysis.