Why do people vote for tyrants? Understanding voting patterns in Pakistan

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There is a general disillusionment with the elected government in power in Pakistan. This government came to power through popular vote. Now the very “partners in crime” of this government are giving a call for overthrow of this government through violent means. This raises the fundamental question-why do people vote for tyrants? We have a secret balloting system in place and hold almost free and fair elections in between the military rules. It gives people a chance to elect representatives who can bring equity, justice and progress. However, when it comes to elections they choose the tyrants and despots as their representatives. They do it by choice in majority of cases.  The question which intrigues everyone like the “clean men of politics” is why do people vote for tyrants?

People want security and justice in resolution of conflicts. This is provided by Thana (police station) and Kutchery (lower courts). They need jobs. In urban areas large number of jobs is provided by the informal sector. However, white collar and secure jobs in urban and rural areas are provided on a large scale by government departments (sarkar). Access to these institutions is monopolized by local chiefs known as sardars, waderas, chaudhrys, khan and their likes. Middle class politicians who cannot end the monopoly of local chiefs over Thana, Kutchery and government jobs and cannot propose constitutional changes to reform Thana, Kutchery and job markets stand no chance of winning the elections.

Fighting despotic power in electoral politics is needed at two levels. One, by creating access to Thana, Kutchery and jobs for people without the patronage of local chiefs. Two, by proposing policy changes to reform Thana, Kutchery and Job Market. Middle class parties interested in challenging and overthrowing despotic power need to provide access to these services and chalk out alternative policies to muster popular support. People are intelligent and rational and they make intelligent choices. Middle class politicians cannot shift the blame of their incompetence on people by calling them ignorant and illiterate.

On the question of access there is only one rule; be available for help when required. Put in your weight for the needy. This can be done irrespective of one’s class background. Jamshed Dasti is the most appropriate example to quote here. Coming from an extremely humble background he has earned the reputation of 15 in his constituency because he attends to the call for help much before 15. He lied on his degree. But he is on even moral ground with people who lie on their oath and electoral promises. He is on even level with the gifted Minister who flunked his exam in Financial Management and was in charge of federal Ministry of Finance during the golden period of our growth.

At policy level we need a combination of policies to end despotic power. This would include devolution of basic services to local government; creation of smaller provinces; transparency in the functioning of government departments; saying no to development without consultation; effective complaint redressal system and police reforms. For reducing economic inequalities and creating massive job opportunities outside the government  we need tax and land reforms, workers’ share in business investments, provision of well monitored interest free credit, integrated education system and investment in human development, universal health insurance, expanding job opportunities through improved investment climate, development of public transportation system and public private partnership for development.

At social level we need to end display of power, status and wealth through personal example; practice simple living, charity and volunteerism, side with the helpless and follow democratic ethics. While policy changes will take a long time to mature middle class parties need to create their own mechanisms for providing access to the people and challenge the patronage of traditional leaders.  Is it too much to ask for?