It has been a week since we saw the results of the election being announced and our world came crashing down around us, seat by seat.
All of us learned a lot in the process. We saw that rigging is a reality and how the ECP has done a less than perfect job in managing the elections. We understood how many seats there are in the assemblies and how the system works. We all heard the term “Facebook Republic of Pakistan”, since there was an argument doing the rounds that only the urban educated youth with Internet access would end up voting for the PTI.
However, as the election turned more and more in favour of PML-N, a learning for me was the reaction that we as the urban educated youth exhibited in the face of defeat: the Facebook Republic of Pakistan turned out to be a fascist regime.
The past week has shown how the Republic is intolerant and dismissive of anyone who disagrees with it’s opinion on the election. The first reaction to an impending defeat was to cry foul. As the results favoured PML-N more heavily, the Republic’s verdict was cruel: either there has been cheating, or the people who voted for PML-N are dumb. The Republic eventually stooped to downright abuse of Punjabis for electing the PML-N. Newsfeeds were full of announcements like, “Illiterate Punjabis should not be allowed to vote!”, or “The Punjabis let Jinnah down during the independence movement and they have let Imran Khan down today”. In a matter of hours, the majority of this country’s population was labelled stupid and unpatriotic. There was no respect for the decision of the people, nor was there any attempt to understand why the majority of Pakistan’s population voted the way it did. Citizens of the Republic who suspected rigging also decided that their right to vote was important enough to start blocking the streets over, while the JI’s right to block the streets to protest against drone strikes has never been acknowledged by the Republic (“Damned these molvis blocking the road they should be lined up and shot!” they would Tweet).
In this self righteous enthusiasm, the Republic did not consider that maybe Imran Khan’s grandiose ideas of turning Pakistani into a welfare state along the model of Nordic countries is not something that appeals to the common Punjabi. What if he or she does not care about Imran Khan’s vision that the Pakistani passport will be respected abroad (because they will never have the money to travel outside the country!). The person earning Rs. 8,000 a month may not be interested in how the tax collection system needs to be revamped and cannot afford to wait a generation as the investment in education that PTI was promising bears fruit. Maybe, just maybe, what really attracts that simple fellow are quick and instant results that make his life less difficult: electricity, a yellow cab, a nice road, a laptop, a sasti roti, or the promise of microfinance and fast trains? Maybe he likes the fact that Shahbaz Sharif walks into the ward of a government hospital at 2am and starts asking patients what quality of treatment they are getting. It’s even possible that the poor guy has actually used his mind (*gasp*) to decide that when it comes to the complexities of politics, experience is more important than idealism.
But no. Instead of being constructive and trying to think how Imran Khan can inspire this type of voter in the future, the Republic decided that the poor illiterate Pakistani has sinned by voting for the PML-N and therefore deserves to remain poor & illiterate forever. The Republic knows what is best for the 80 million registered voters of this country. All other points of view: go to hell.
Why did the Republic react like this? Is it a control issue? Is it fear? A mixture of both?
Maybe this extreme reaction by the Republic is driven by the fact that, for a change, the poverty stricken masses did not act on our wishes. We are used to our drivers, our cooks, our maids and our guards doing our bidding. We wave a 100 rupee note in the street and a bunch of people line up to clean our windshields, sell us roses or fill petrol in our cars. Are we so used to them working for us that we were unable to tolerate the fact that they did not agree with our superior political vision of Pakistan? How DARE 80 million poor Pakistanis vote against the wishes of 8 million Facebook users?!
Or (more plausibly) is this fascist behaviour rooted in fear and helplessness? What hurts is not the fact that the Republic lost, but the stark realization that our group of well educated urban Pakistanis is so small that we have trouble swinging a single seat, much less an entire election. Being born into the privileged few was already a guilt that we had to live with – the realization that in a democratic setup we are a powerless privileged few is an extremely scary thought.
Let’s try to scope exactly how small the Republic really is. There are 8 million Facebook users in Pakistan. Assuming 4 people in every home use Facebook, that is 2 million households. At the rate of 3 registered voters per household, that puts the total number of voters at 6 million; less than 8% of the total registered 80 million voters. For some reason the Republic forgot this fact and assumed that massive support of PTI on Facebook automatically means massive support in the real world.
Let’s scope the same matter in the “real” world. While we have all read the numbers, very few of us have a realization of the sheer smallness of this privileged group that we belong to. In that sense, PTI’s loss is a good reminder of the fact that our nice little bubble full of Honda Civics, Pizza Hut and Beaconhouse might be comfortable, but it represents but a drop in the teeming masses of people that comprise Pakistan.
It’s about time that citizens of the Republic had their memories refreshed on what Pakistan is all about and remove any notions they may have that poverty and literacy are just a rural problem:
- 89% of the population does not have Internet access
- There are 3.2 million cars on the road in Pakistan, while there are 27 million households. Adjusting for multiple car ownership, one can safely say that 90% of Pakistani households do not own a car
- The average monthly income of a Pakistani worker is Rs. 8,500; in urban areas it’s Rs. 11,700
- 46% of the population is illiterate; in urban areas illiteracy is at 28%
- 40% of the population has NEVER attended school; in urban areas this number is 25%
- 23% of the population has managed to enroll in (not pass) Matric; in urban areas Matric enrolment is 33%
- 75% of households subsist on a monthly household income of Rs. 20,000 or less; in urban areas this number is 59%
- 58% of children born in 2010-11 were delivered at HOME; this number is 34% in urban areas
BUT, despite everything that our teeming masses may not have, something that everyone aged 18 or more does have is: a vote. And when it comes to this vote, no matter how poor they are, how illiterate they are, or how little understanding they have of economics and finance and politics, they are EQUAL to all citizens of the Republic.
A Tsunami will only come when these teeming masses rise up – and that Tsunami will be of their choosing, not ours. Maybe THAT is what is killing us.
The author flew to Pakistan to vote, drove relatives around to make them vote for PTI and shouted “Imran Khan! Imran Khan!” at Shahbaz Sharif’s face as he walked past him to vote at NA 126 (PTI won there by the way). He is and intends to remain a PTI/Imran Khan supporter and financier.