In the upcoming elections, the transformative dynamics of Pakistan’s political landscape are poised for a profound shift, driven by a dynamic middle class, accelerated urbanisation, and the revolutionary influence of social media, and technology.
These interconnected factors are anticipated to serve as catalysts, shaping the electorate’s mindset, and redefining the very essence of political engagement in the nation.
As the middle class expands, urban centres evolve, and technology reshapes communication, the upcoming elections stand as a pivotal moment in Pakistan’s democratic journey.
Dr Ammar A Malik, senior research scientist at AidData, a research lab at William & Mary, a public university in Virginia, United States, notes that this dynamic middle class, defined as those earning between $2 and $10 per day, has grown significantly, reaching 42% of the population in 2017.
Despite a growth rate between 3%-5%, Pakistan’s middle class could have been more substantial with a higher GDP growth rate, comparable to India or China.
Dr Malik emphasises that the middle class, now the 13th largest globally, plays a crucial role in influencing voting patterns and decision-making, moving beyond traditional clan-based affiliations.
Dr Malik observes that as individuals and families move to urban areas, there is a shift towards more independent decision-making.
Urbanisation challenges the traditional patron-client system, where politicians rely on clan-based loyalties for votes.
Tayyab Shamsher, whose family member has been contesting elections for decades from Sargodha for PML-N, highlights the impact of urban culture on voting behaviour, noting a diminishing influence of group affiliations in favour of individual choices.
The urbanised populace, now more empowered, seeks accountability on national issues, marking a departure from local-centric concerns, he said.
Social media’s transformative power
As the rise of social media and technology is revolutionising political engagement in Pakistan, Dr Malik underscored the transformative impact of mobile phone technology on information accessibility, which he added was helping create a more informed electorate.
The increased income of Pakistanis has led to widespread ownership of mobiles and computers, altering awareness about the political system.
However, he cautions against the polarisation caused by unregulated social media content.
Despite the hazards of misinformation, social media has empowered the youth, with over two-thirds of the population under 30, influencing their political opinions and contributing to a more dynamic electoral landscape.
Shifting political dynamics
Shamsher, meanwhile, highlights the evolving strategies of politicians in response to changing dynamics.
Traditional approaches centred around affiliations with influential individuals, such as the patriarchs in villages, are giving way to more individual-focused campaigns, Shamsher noted.
“Politicians are adapting to the independence that urbanisation brings, fostering connections with individuals rather than relying solely on group affiliations.”
As a result, voting patterns are no longer solely determined by familial or tribal ties but are increasingly based on performance and national-level issues, Shamsher added.
Trust deficit and institutional challenges
Political analyst Dr Nawaz Ul Huda draws attention to the persistent challenges in Pakistan’s political landscape.
He notes Despite an expanding middle class and urbanisation, the lack of trust in institutions remains a critical issue.
Dr Huda argues that the absence of effective institutions hinders the shift towards a more manifesto-driven voting behaviour.
He underscores the importance of addressing trust deficits and calls for electoral reforms, suggesting the implementation of laws to trigger re-elections when winning margins are narrow, fostering a more representative and accountable political system.
Visceral decision-making and dynastic politics
Dr Huda reflects on the tendency of the Pakistani populace to make visceral decisions based on short-term solutions rather than considering long-term impacts.
Dynastic politics, he argues, remains deeply entrenched, with the absence of a robust local government system hindering the emergence of new leaders.
While the upcoming elections are overshadowed by historical events, Dr Huda warns that eliminating unelected powers and dynastic politics requires comprehensive reforms, including the establishment of a more effective local government.
In conclusion, the interplay of a dynamic middle class, rapid urbanisation, and the influence of social media is reshaping Pakistan’s political landscape.
The challenge lies in overcoming trust deficits, instituting electoral reforms, and fostering a more informed and accountable political culture.
As Pakistan navigates these dynamics, the upcoming elections will serve as a crucial juncture in determining the nation’s political trajectory.
The need for manifesto-driven politics
Addressing the issue of manifesto-driven politics, Dr Huda stresses the importance of political parties presenting themselves for accountability.
In the absence of a clear commitment to deliver on promises, voters may remain sceptical about the effectiveness of the democratic process. The call for transparency and accountability becomes particularly crucial as the middle-income class grows, demanding a more substantive basis for political decision-making.
Harnessing power of tech and youth engagement
Dr Malik underscores the transformative role of technology, especially among Pakistan’s youth. With a considerable portion of the population under 30, the use of social media platforms and mobile technology has become integral to shaping political opinions.
Malik suggests that authorities should adapt to this new reality by considering the active engagement of the youth and leveraging technology for more inclusive governance.
Harnessing the potential of this demographic shift could lead to a more participatory and dynamic political landscape.
Local governance for national progress
In response to the changing dynamics, Dr Malik advocates for a shift towards local governance.
He argues that empowering local governments would allow for more effective provision of services, meeting the diverse needs of a growing and dynamic population.
As urbanisation progresses, localised governance structures could bridge the gap between citizens and the state, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability.
Overcoming challenges for sustainable change
The upcoming elections in Pakistan serve as a critical juncture to overcome longstanding challenges and embrace sustainable political change.
Dr Huda emphasises the necessity of eradicating dynastic politics and unelected powers, paving the way for a more representative leadership that reflects the real societal fabric.
Embracing manifestos, engaging the youth through technology, and investing in local governance are essential steps toward building a political landscape that aligns with the evolving needs and aspirations of the Pakistani people.
As Pakistan struggles with these complexities, the convergence of a dynamic middle class, urbanisation, and technological advancements presents both challenges and opportunities for shaping a more vibrant and responsive political future.
The elections hold the potential to be a catalyst for transformative change, provided the nation addresses institutional shortcomings and embraces a forward-looking, inclusive vision.