As Pakistan prepares to vote in its general election on July 25, the tribulations of a multi-party contest are, understandably, matters of debate and pontification. In its July 5 editorial, The Express Tribune looks at Karachi, the country’s financial capital, and the fact that “never before in the electoral history of Karachi were the elections so unpredictable… The MQM enjoyed absolute electoral supremacy in the metropolis for nearly three decades, starting mid-80s.” The splits and unifications that have marred the “mohajir” party have, however, thrown open the field. “All of the PTI, PPP, PML-N, PSP, TLP — and a reunited MQM-P — are contending to become the voice of Karachi, and party chiefs themselves — Imran Khan, Shehbaz Sharif, Bilawal Bhutto, Khaild Maqbool and Mustafa Kamal — are eyeing the grand prize of returning from the country’s financial hub.”
The open contest in Karachi is, perhaps to a lesser extent, reflected on the national scene: Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N) is under a cloud after the former PM was expelled from his position on charges of corruption and not displaying “Islamic virtues”. The verdict in the first phase of the “accountability trials” of Nawaz and his family by a National Accountability Court, have put a question mark on the political future of the PML(N) according to Dawn in its July 5 editorial. Dawn also asserts that “from a political perspective, it is apparent that the absence of Mr Sharif has immediately and significantly impacted the PML-N’s election campaign. Shahbaz Sharif and the rest of the PML-N leadership do not appear to have ignited the public imagination, and the PML-N appears to remain a party that responds primarily to the political appeal of Nawaz Sharif.”
The influence of the media, and the way in which it is used by, and reacts to, politicians in the ongoing campaign is analysed in an oped by Arif Azad in Dawn. “In this campaign,” argues Azad, “the real tension lies between what media theorists call the ‘monovocality’ of newspapers and ‘polyvocality’ of digital and social media.” While the PML-N is better organised and was first of the mark in traditional campaigns, like rallies and public meetings, presenting the simple message of Nawaz Sharif as the wronged politician, Imran Khan’s PTI “has huge presence on social media, where political attack ads are a routine affair. The PTI’s successful social media presence is largely because its vote bank consists of a large slice of the country’s youth, who are social media savvy”. Another aspect of social media campaigns is the attempt to discredit the political class as a whole, a move that seems to be working against the ruling party.
Violence in Dhaka
The violence against students of Dhaka University protesting for a reform in the government recruitment system earlier this month, seemingly by members of the Bangladesh Chhatra League (student-wing of the ruling Awami League), continues to rile many. Moyukh Mahtab writes in an article in The Daily Star of the impunity that BCL members seem to enjoy. The proctor of the university, for example, claimed he was “uninformed” about the attacks that, incidentally, were captured on camera for all to see. Mahtab raises powerful questions, and directs them as much to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as to Bangladesh society as a whole. “As protesters who were beaten up that day now lie in hospital beds or spend their time in jail, a few simple questions need to be asked. What extent of authority has been given to BCL? Are they part of the university authorities now, that they feel entitled to exercise their might to establish ‘peace’ on campus?… And is there a special caveat of the law, that when they openly kick and stomp men and women, the police simply walk away, and even with their faces on camera, days go by without any indication of action being taken against them?”
Nepal and the world
China’s rise globally, a hot-and-cold relationship with India and the lack of a wide engagement with countries other than its two immediate neighbours are issues Nepal’s foreign policy establishment must address, according to an article by Sujeev Shakya in The Kathmandu Post. “The 2015 blockade,” argues Shakya, “has done much [more] damage to [the] Nepal-India relationship than India could have ever imagine”. However, “as India is working closely with China on economic issues, there is hope that there would be more trilateral approaches to neighbourhood policies rather than bilateral management that is dependent on the whims and fancies of a few individuals”. On China, Shakya feels that the relationship must deepen and move beyond “nationalistic” sentiment on Kathmandu’s part, often a knee-jerk reaction to the ups and downs of ties with New Delhi. Finally, as the world moves towards multipolarity, Nepal must leverage its position to expand its economic diplomacy. Shakya argues for a pragmatic engagement with the world: “In Nepal, having a global view is seen as being capitalist or anti-socialist.” From Rwanda and Bhutan, Nepal can learn “how small countries with few diplomatic missions can take the global centre-stage”.