The Great Divide

When it comes to Pakistani politics, I’ve found it safer for my emotional well-being to take chants of revolution and promises of change with a giant grain of salt. However in the days leading up to the elections, I got swept up by the waves of enthusiasm.

Amongst the hopeful banter on the airwaves, like the thousands of fellow first-time voters this year, I saw a glimmer of hope. For the first time perhaps, in a very long time, we were excited by the possibility of democracy at work. We were hopeful.

Who we saw that glimmer of hope in or what we hoped to accomplish is secondary to the fact that we saw it in the first place. It’s no secret that Pakistan is suffering, and most of the youth (the alleged future of the country) wants to leave for greener pastures. Anywhere but here, a friend likes to say. Who can blame us? Patriotic hokum aside,

Perhaps that’s why it’s even more amazing that we were optimistic.

We were hopeful that our votes could and would make a difference. But come election day, we were confounded.

For many of us, this was our first time participating in the democratic process, either because we were too young or too indifferent the last time this opportunity came knocking. “Vote se kuch nai hota, koi faida nahin hai,” warned the people who’d been through this ordeal before. But we continued to insist that our vote mattered enough to make a difference. We were hopeful.

Perhaps that’s why, come Election Day, we were confounded.

Corruption, coercion, rigging and ballot tampering – none of these are new concepts. But in the heat of the campaigns, inundated by wave after wave of political hyperbole on all fronts, we seem to have forgotten this basic truth: elections in Pakistan have never been “free”, “fair” or “transparent” in any sense of the words.

While it is fairly evident that rigging and tampering were widespread this time as well, the question is many minds is whether the “democratic process” can ever flourish in this country. How many corrupt officers, how much dirty money and how many goons does it take to steal an entire national election? The scale of things is truly astounding.

That is of course, if we are to accept that elections were rigged in the first place.

How many corrupt officers, how much dirty money and how many goons does it take to steal an entire national election?

Is there any other explanation? We ask ourselves, who in their right mind would vote for a known and blatantly corrupt billionaire who has proven his disdain for the common man time and again. We try to imagine the person who continues to support a political party that has continued to undermine national interest over personal gain and we struggle to understand the rationale of voting for so-called champions of democracy who believe in their right to rule just because their fathers ruled before them.

And that is the crux of this entire thought.

Either the elections were pre-planned and rigged on such a massive scale that the entire process was a giant farce. Or, the “burger awaam” or “Facebook activists” have become so disconnected with the majority of Pakistan that the election results are beyond comprehension, simply because we do not understand the “common man” and his perverse love for dynastic politicians who continue to hurt and humiliate him.

For all the voters of this year, old and new, the wounds of defeat are still fresh. But this is not the defeat of one party over another or of one personality over the other. Rather it is the defeat of hope in the democratic system and possibly in the salvation of our country.

I’m not sure which of these explanations is worse.

As we struggle to wrap our minds around the outcome of the Pakistan elections and reconcile reality with the expectations, aspirations, hopes and dreams associated with the ballot, one question remains.

What now?