Political rhetoric in election season

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A mixed bag of promises and ideas

Imran Khan’s political show in Lahore a week ago was momentous in numbers and the rhetoric which the head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaaf (PTI) used during his address, offered an image of a Pakistan where good governance and impartial justice will be the only measuring stick.

On the other hand, the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) in a series of political shows across Punjab has not only been able to attract a large number of supporters but has also adopted the rhetoric of political victimization. While there is no confirmation to claims that the party has made regarding its political victimization, there is evidence to claim that PML-N’s top body has not been able to clear financial irregularities which the country’s constitution doesn’t allow, if one is to follow the text in practice. Now it’s an altogether different question whether the ruling party’s rhetoric of victimization is fair as the party forms its claims on the basis that other political parties who have committed similar or worse financial misdeeds have not been targeted. Nonetheless, despite disqualifications and other shaming experiences, the ruling party is making tall claims in the governance and deliverance sector which it is aiming to use to not only counteract the pressure of political opposition but also to ward off competing narratives which offer credence to claims that corruption is deeply rooted in the party’s ranks.

Another major mainstream political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), whose claims of delivering in the Province of Sind can be scrutinized endlessly, has come out with a campaign agenda of doubling down on the ruling party’s alleged corrupt practices. Former President Asif Ali Zardari recently said “PML-N’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif had weakened democracy by behaving like Prince Salim.” Another familiar political rhetoric, which the party has adopted throughout its life, is again making rounds ahead of the next general election: “Nawaz Sharif has harmed democracy. We served jail terms. Benazir Bhutto and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had embraced martyrdom for the cause of democracy. But Nawaz Sharif destroyed our struggle and sacrifices by acting like Prince Salim,” Zardari said in a statement recently. The rhetoric in the message confirms that PPP is the only party which has fought for democracy and our sacrifices cannot be matched and voting for Bhutto’s patty meant voting for democracy in Pakistan.

Now this ‘rhetoric’ of all mainstream political parties, if seen in context respectively makes claims of a better Pakistan. PTI: our government is going to be impartial, independent of any pressures and rule of law will be followed in all forms and shapes. PML-N: Despite political victimization, which hampered our efforts for a struggle to pave a way for a better Pakistan, we have done more work than anyone in the history of Pakistan. PPP: If anyone is interested in seeing a democratic, progressive and liberal Pakistan then don’t look beyond Sind, and voting for us means voting for a party that has not only fought and spilled blood for democracy but has also resisted civilian dictators to serve the masses.

The recent sit-in’s by right-wing religious parties, which for different reason resonated with the masses forced the government into submission

Beyond this rhetoric, there is an another competing ‘rhetoric in practice’ that not only undermines political parties claims for a better Pakistan but also bolsters and encourages violent narratives that by all means present threat to any vision of a peaceful and democratic Pakistan. We are living in a country, which is bitterly divided ideologically culturally and socially. Middle, lower middle and poor classes are drawn to the religious right’s campaigns to protect a Pakistan, which has allegedly been destroyed by the so-called liberal political elite. In this context, in the popular cultural narrative, the only way forward for Pakistan is to bring the country’s ideological identity at the center of politics. The religious right not only campaigns for a conservative vision of Pakistan but has also decimated the state’s internal sovereignty by attacking the state with right-wing ideological narratives that resonate with a large portion of the population that favors religious conservatism in society, culture, and politics. Such groups get away with crimes, malpractices and defy the state’s ability to absolutely practice the notion of ‘monopoly over violence.’ The recent sit-in’s by right-wing religious parties, which for different reason resonated with the masses forced the government into submission.

With the election season around the corner, political parties are actively pandering to the religious right for electoral gains. Apparently, there is a race among political parties to set new precedents to appease the far-right in Pakistan. A few days ago, the ruling party-sponsored a resolution in the National Assembly (NA) to remove Dr. Abdul Salam’s Chair from one of the largest public universities in the country that passed is a case in point.

A stream of political narratives, facilitated, embraced and practiced by political and religious elite alike who all promise a better Pakistan in their own spirit and vision have brutally divided Pakistan internally. The culture of relying on political rhetoric that favors narrow political interests rather than interests of the wider public is not only apparent in ‘practice’ among the country’s political elite but is also reinforced more forcefully. In this fierce struggle to reach the power corridors, a liberal, progressive and tolerant Pakistan appears to be on the losing side.