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Pakistan’s ‘Bible Belt’ And The Jeep Drawing Attention, Traction

IRSHAD SALIM (JUL 7, 2018): Out of the 105 million Pakistanis who are expected to vote on July 25 in the country’s third successive polls, nearly 47 million are registered female voters while 44 million among all registered voters are between the ages of 18 and 35. This means over 43% of the voters are young people of both genders combined.

Interestingly, statistical data indicates that the country’s population roughly consist of almost similar split between the two categories — the overall female population and the youth bulge. So giving each a 50/50 weightage, both categories combined could sway the upcoming polls results.

The party that capitalizes on this 45.5 million [(47m + 45m)/2] vote-bank — equal to almost 40 percent of the overall voters count countrywide– may well see itself winning the largest number of seats in the elections. But this could hold true if it was direct democracy. Here, electables, baradaris and party-based voting pattern have been governing, leaving less room for “silent voters” and “new voters” to influence the outcome. Thus on a 50/50 probability of such pattern repeating itself, the female-youth swing effect would then reduce to between 25 and 20 percent.

However, what could additionally add to the election calculus, are these three factors: the rural voters (62 to 70 pct), the ‘Jeep’, and religious parties such as Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) whose influence base cuts across all divides and oscillates under “Barelvi-Hanafi/Ahle Sunnat-Wahabi” narratives — the state and the government for the last several years have been encouraging these demonominations to get into the mainstream and play fair-game under project democracy, rather than taking up extremism, arms, etc.

Between the rural and the religious, could be emerging a Pakistani ‘Bible Belt’ — like in the US Midwest — which could then matter — whether the liberals and the progressives, etc. like it or not.

Add to the ‘Bible Belt’ phenomenon is yet another undeniable reality — the presence of 4 to 5 million defense-related families across the country whom hardly anyone discusses as a political voice. These families and near and dear ones are specially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces.

The overall matrix then becomes much clear, but hard to believe by those who take matters seriously qualitatively but not objectively, quantitatively — like it or not Noon Leaguers, Insafians, Jiyalas, et al.

An incomplete ‘final list’ of candidates announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Wednesday reveals that the symbol of ‘Jeep’ allotted to estranged PML-N leader Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, this time contesting for two NA and two Punjab Assembly seats independently, is the most sought-after symbol of the independents across the country — particularly in Punjab.

In Punjab’s 120 constituencies alone, as many as 66 independent candidates will be contesting polls on the symbol of ‘jeep’. Overall, 119 candidates have chosen the same symbol throughout the country — a group think coincidentally or incidentally.

In KP, 23 independent candidates are contesting the polls on the ‘jeep’ symbol whereas there are 16 such candidates in Sindh and 14 in Balochistan.

The allotment of the ‘jeep’ symbol in such large numbers and to most of the PML-N dissidents has triggered a debate, particularly on social media, suggesting that those contesting on the symbol are backed by anti-status quo forces — traditional forces club them as ‘the establishment’ — but it’s a paradox though. Why? Typically, it’s the political parties who are considered anti status-quo, and the ‘establishment’ otherwise.

The paradigm shift and the upending of roles add fluidity to the situation and vulnerability to each major parties collective strengths across all fault lines.

A shifting-sand-like trend over the years — thanks to project democracy, has provided the electronic media, intellectuals, politicos and analysts, twitteratis with myriad permutations to permeate prime time TV shows and social media and ultimately landing into the public.

One among several punching bags is Chaudhry Nisar, who has disassociated himself from the other independent candidates contesting on the ‘jeep’ symbol, and denied formation of any group within the PML-N or links with the “khalai makhluqs”.

He made further clarification during a news conference in Taxila in the wake of media reports that a number of PML-N leaders belonging to southern Punjab, who had returned their party tickets, will now be contesting the July 25 elections independently and on the symbol of ‘jeep’.

Sentenced Maryam Nawaz in a message on her official account on Twitter has alleged that “the votes to be polled for jeep will go to khalayi makhlooq”, a reference to “invisible forces” which, according to her father and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif, are behind the alleged victimization of the PML-N and the Sharif family — on Friday, Nawaz, Maryam and her spouse Safdar were handed sentences and fines by the Supreme Court. So they are all out of the race and thus grim reapers for understandable reasons.

“As Mian sahab had said, it should be found out how people are being forcefully brought off from the lion symbol and being made to climb the jeep,” Maryam tweeted from London, where she is with her father to look after her ailing mother Kulsoom Nawaz.

Chaudhry Nisar, on the other hand, clarified that he had not asked anyone to seek the symbol of ‘jeep’, trying to suggest that it was a mere coincidence.

Fact remains that the ‘jeep’ as designed, has the ability to find traction in all weather conditions, specially if it’s on the 4-wheel drive mode — slow, bumpy but gets to places. Whether ‘Jeep’ on July 25 will ride alone or with several, could matter.

(The writer is a business consultant, analyst and Editor/Publisher of PKonweb.com, DesPardes.com and BE2C2 Report)






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