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Vote for the Person, not the Party

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t see or hear people arguing about politics at different online and offline forums. From the most perceptive and discerning political behemoths voicing their opinions in media and rallies to the LOL’ing, ROFL’ing, Twitter-happy teenagers commenting on Facebook; most of these expedient champions of democracy seem to be oblivious to the ideologies of the parties they are defending or slinging mud at. These debates, more like news anchor-refereed altercations, mostly target the party leaders. PMLN is synonymous with Nawaz Sharif or Shahbaz Sharif; PTI is another name for Imran Khan; PPP is Asif Ali Zardari; MQM is Altaf Husain; and so on.

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Just last night I was having a friendly discussion with a friend about the loss of the loyalist Ideological Group in PTI’s intra-party elections in Lahore, arguably the stronghold of the party. We were discussing why people would vote for candidates who have been implicated in multiple crimes, some even carrying murder charges, and put them at the helm of affairs in Lahore district.

My friend, who belongs to the Ideological Group, eventually tried to conclude the debate in his typical casual style. “Oh yaar, jab tak Khan upar baithaa hai, it doesn’t matter kai neechay kon hai. Who khud hi sab ko sambhal lai gaa,” he remarked. [Translated: “As long as Imran Khan is sitting at the top, it doesn’t matter who the rank and file comprises. Khan will deal with them himself.”]

By the way, and just to be clear, I am using PTI just as an example. Similar examples can be found in pretty much every political party in the country, but PTI seems to be the trendsetting champion of democracy with its intra-party elections and all – a great initiative but with a flawed design.

I was surprised at my friend’s response. This dictatorial view of a democratic party is an inherently conflicted notion yet many don’t realize that. Was my friend suggesting that once in power, the leader of a democratic political party can become a dictator and do and decide as he wills?

To support the induction of ‘questionable’ representatives in the party, he reached for an old adage. “Gold is a soft metal, but unless you mix in some impurities, it doesn’t become valuable and gain the strength necessary for it to be used in jewelry,” he added. What a boat-load of bullshit that was. I was going to ask him if he’d drink a glass full of pure milk if I mixed a drop of urine in it, but then the discussion wouldn’t end and I had to rush home.

This discussion also enlightened me. I realized that the focus on party leadership in the media might be by design. By keeping the focus on Imran Khan, Nawaz Sharif or Asif Ali Zardari, the public attention stays away from the party ideology, manifestos and other representatives of the parties. People are led to believe that as long as they vote for PTI (with Imran Khan in the showcase) or PMLN (with Shabaz Sharif in the showcase) or PPP (with Bilawal Bhutto in the showcase), nothing else in or about the party matters. That’s why ideologies, manifestos, roadmaps and merit/demerits of everyone else in the parties have taken a back seat.

That is dangerous. We need to start disassociating political parties with their show piece leadership and make more informed voting decisions in the coming elections.

Thanks to the pervasive electronic media; to the political maturity that comes with democratic aging; and, at least partly, to our own self-preservation instincts, we are now slightly more politically-aware as a nation than from a decade ago. The signs of this maturity are everywhere. We at least have started discussing political issues alongside personal lives of politicians. We raise our voices more than our hands. We get out on the streets more than just politicking in drawing rooms. And we reconcile more than we fight. That’s not to say there is no more room for improvement; on the contrary, there is still a long way to go, but, thankfully, we are heading in the right direction.

That’s all good. But I also wish we could all understand – before taking fierce positions on two ends of a political argument – is that our political parties, unfortunately, have regressed to being a handy identifier for a pool of politicians and nothing more. I wish we could discern between a democratic party singularly guided by its ideology and a band of politicians carrying a fancy flag and a show piece leader. The former are non-existent in Pakistan. The latter, regrettably, crowd our political landscape. In my humble opinion, political parties are nothing but mere herd labels these days.

Just like the broad stroke painting of our political dialogues with the color of the party leader’s politics; come election day, I fear that most of us will vote on party grounds, completely oblivious to the ability (or lack thereof) of the actual candidate contesting the election. With the recent acceptance of 9 PPP and PMLQ politicians into PMLN; and the inflow of some ‘questionable’ ‘electables’ into, and departure of ideological loyalists like Shireen Mazari out of PTI; most parties have (d)evolved to become an amalgam of disparate political agendas championed by powerful new inductees with vested interests that undoubtedly supersede party mandates.

True democracy calls for the electorate to vote judiciously with open eyes and minds. The best democratic government can be formed if each voter truly values his right to vote and elects the candidate that, to the best of the voter’s objective opinion, is best for him individually AND for the voter’s community or electoral region. This analysis must be conducted for each individual candidate vying for the vote and not for the party the candidate represents, nor and equally worse, just the leader of that party.

Given the vast disparity in the education levels and political exposure of the voters, some may cast their votes based on very superficial analysis or hearsay; others may be very thorough in their due diligence. Time will undoubtedly, eventually, prove that some were right and some were wrong with their choices, but what’s important is that every vote must be cast with the voter’s unflinching belief that it is the right thing to do on the day of the elections based on his assessment of the specific candidate.

Everyone is celebrating the completion of the full five year term of the first democratically elected government in Pakistan. That will remain a vanity milestone unless the majority of Pakistanis realize the power of their vote and cast it judiciously every time they hold a ballet in their hands.

The coming elections are critical. Please do get out to vote on election day. Vote for the best candidate contesting from your constituency based on his or her individual merits and position on the issues that matter to you and your community. Please remember, vote for the person, not the party!

[Editor’s Note: Even though this blog is mostly about Technology, Investment, Entrepreneurship and Startups, it’s also about Pakistan (the .pk in the domain name). That affords me some liberty to occasionally write about political topics if I feel very strongly about them. The majority of the content on the this blog, however, will remain true to its projected essence.]

Khurram Zafar (19 Posts)

Executive Director, LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship | ex-CIO at Lahore Stock Exchange | Senior Policy Adviser, Government of Punjab | Visiting Faculty, Entrepreneurship, Graduate School of Computer Science, Information Technology University of Punjab | Board Member, Plan9 Technology Incubator | Entrepreneur | Tech & Agri Investor | Poker Player | Poet | Magician | Dad of three | Follow me on Twitter by clicking here!

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  1. Its understandable why people vote for person instead of Party ,
    Political parties , no matter who these are , needs the same type of ‘electable’ to get into power .
    and out of these electable few come into politics for social service .

    No matter who won the election , some people will remain in Govt if not directly then indirectly. So on such party structure nobody can trust , as you rightly gave the example of PTI Lahore region , where accused for murder got elected .

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