Only the most sterile academic analysis can ignore the fact that PPP got the ethnic Sindhi, PML-N got the ethnic Punjabi and MQM got the ethnic Muhajir vote in Rural Sindh, Punjab and Urban Sindh respectively. Each of these parties played the race card in these elections, albeit thinly veiled behind euphemisms. A lot of the vote cast was still ‘biradri’ vote. As a socio-economic class, the rural poor in Pakistan especially are highly immune to feeling disentitled as a ‘tribe’ and voting in favor of the ‘tribe’ to protect their interests. It takes a certain level of education and social awareness to understand that the only real tribes in complex modern politico-economies are those divided along the economic lines. The world is not split between Sindhis, Punjabis, Pushtoons or Muhajirs but between the haves and the have-nots. The rural poor in most of Pakistan have been systematically kept from gaining the education and awareness needed to make this distinction. They continue to vote along tribal lines.
This is exactly the strategy being used by the Tea Party in America where a dwindling white majority continues to vote against their economic interests out of unfounded fears of the rise of the yellows, browns or blacks.
Idol (Leader) Worship
Another characteristic of a tribal people, Pakistanis continue to follow their ‘leader’ blindly. This stands true even if the leader has passed away. Nawaz Sharif, Altaf Hussain and the Bhutto name still inspire immense feelings of loyalty among people who’ve grown-up looking up to these leaders. Many wouldn’t even hear a word of rational argument against their leader, much less vote against them.
In America, the Tea Party has been particularly good at constructing these imaginary idols to worship; the ghost of Ronald Reagan being the best of them. I say these idols are imaginary, because even if they are real people like Sarah Palin, the image that people worship is a far cry from the reality of what that person is.
Unlike the Tea Party in the US though, the traditional parties in Pakistan don’t make an explicit appeal to religion anymore. Religious vote has never played a significant role inPakistani politics and there is little indication that it will in the future.
The kind of education and grooming in democratic culture that is needed to negate the effects of a tribal mentality is not something that can be imparted through an education campaign. It requires the economic and social transformation of a nation. On the one hand there needs to be greater economic freedom for all allowing for the provision of disposable time for masses to think and process relevant political information and on the other hand, the media needs to be rid of state and corporate influence and an artistic and literary culture nurtured to ensure that when people do have free time to process new information, the right information is available for them to absorb. Without this kind of socio-economic change, genuine political change would be impossible. A third aspect is implementation of rule of law, without which the wolves will always win. Genuine empowerment of people is not something that can be achieved by simply allowing people to put a stamp in the box of their choice on a piece of paper. Sheep will be sheep. Leave the door of their cage open, they’d still follow the sheep in front of them, even if it leads them to the slaughterhouse floor. Sheep will be sheep.