What started as an unprecedented collaring of Sardar Jamal Leghari by angry and disillusioned voters in his traditional constituency in Dera Ghazi Khan has by now begun to acquire the contours of a movement with momentum. His constituents did not even offer Jamal Leghari the normal respect and even obsequiousness reserved for tribal chiefs. The questions they put to him in no uncertain terms were where he had been since the last elections five years ago, what had he done for them during this period, and why should they, on the basis of his indifference to their problems, once more vote for him. And they would not be pacified or calm down even in the face of Jamal Leghari’s pulling social ‘rank’ on them. This is indeed unprecedented in our political culture, where tribal, caste, landowning and religious factors traditionally play such a huge role in determining political affiliations and voting patterns, particularly in the rural areas. Sardar Jamal Leghari is not the only one to have had to face angry and insistent questioners amongst his constituents. To take just a few examples, Farooq Sattar of MQM-P faced a hostile reception in Memon Masjid, Karachi, PTI’s Arif Alvi and PPP’s former chief minister Murad Ali Shah, PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, all received a ‘roasting’ at the hands of dissatisfied voters in their respective constituencies. Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Awais Leghari, former leader of the opposition Syed Khursheed Shah, former federal ministers Sikandar Bosan, Zahid Hamid and Afzal Rana too have been on the receiving end of their voters’ pent up wrath. Former Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah and PTI’s Sheikh Khurram Shahzad have fallen foul of the Faisalabad powerloom workers for similar reasons. The idea of ‘naming and shaming’ the elected representatives seeking votes for re-election is new, and has found traction because of mainstream and social media exposure and sharing of such ‘confrontations’.
While this new phenomenon reflects an increase in political consciousness on the part of the electorate, credit is also due to the continuity of democracy, however flawed, for the last 10 years, during which the first transfer of power through the ballot box from the incumbents to the opposition in our history took place in 2013. While the right to hold elected representatives accountable is unassailable and should be welcomed as a maturing of political consciousness amongst the masses, the resort to physical misbehaviour or violence is a stretch too far. Pushing, shoving, attacking with sticks and stones (as happened to Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s cavalcade in Lyari, and which the PPP has blamed ‘rivals’ for orchestrating) is not within the parameters of democratic accountability nor sanctioned by the law or election rules. Such outbreaks of resort to violent means in the midst of an already tense political atmosphere rife with accusations of pre-polls rigging, stacking of the deck against one particular political party, etc, is not conducive to the peaceful exercise of the right of franchise by the electorate, which is one of the foundations of any democratic order. The disappointment and disillusionment in the existing mainstream political parties on the part of their voters has accumulated slowly but surely, is by now at an all-time high, and arguably has been incrementally fuelled by social media sharing of experiences and issues. This effect is in fact a strong argument in favour of freedom of the media and expression, which is the greatest conduit for informing and making the masses aware and conscious. The electorate now is impatient for the redressal of its issues of socio-economic justice, employment, poverty, civic facilities such as potable water, electricity, gas, garbage disposal, health and a myriad other issues that make life for the ordinary citizen a constant struggle and irritant. The traditional political class had better wake up too to this new awakening amongst hitherto passive and accepting voters. Their day in the old style seems to be done, and if they fail to respond to the new zeit geist amongst the people, their political future cannot be as sanguine and guaranteed as it has been in the past.