Sherbaz Ali Khan
Clouds of uncertainly loom over the horizon about the timely commencement of elections In Gilgit-Baltistan due to COVID19. However, sooner or later, elections are to be held, so those interested in contesting, are ready to touch the saddles of their house for the race. Majority of the contestants will be in the field on behalf of their parties, and some independents will also test their luck. The candidates have their party manifesto, their own program tailored to attract the people, and their set of promises to every household to deliver on being elected. This piles up a to do list for the candidates for five years to deliver in case of wining: a list which is beyond a life time work- the candidates know, but that is how is election campaign all about. With manifesto and program, the candidates have to use various tactics for gaining edge over their opponents. Days in days out, until elections day, the candidates will keep their campaign going through jalsas, rallies, posters and pamphlets showcasing, electronic media coverage, door to door visits, and leaving no stone unturned in reaching out to the people whatever occasion arises with hyperbole and claims tenable and untenable.
During all this ebullience, what is forgotten is that expectations are huge, promises are beyond delivery and the time and resources in hands of the candidates, who win, are limited. What is next? Enormous gap between promises and deliveries – precursor of shaken confidence. People, and in remote areas with their bucolic acumen, become frustrated when they see things don’t turn up the way they were promised or they had expected. This then becomes the talk of the town that the elected representatives did not deliver and all they have done is to take care of themselves and some near and dear ones. This also shakes the confidence of people in the system and they think whether they vote or not means the same as they could not see the return of their vote and this further aggrandize their cynicism. To avoid a situation like this, the candidates need to confine their promises to some limits and also avoid prevaricating about what is feasible while in power. It is also imperative for the winning candidates to dispel the impression of close affinity or proclivity towards kith and kin and close supporters.
While casting their vote, people might think they are voting the luminous candidates, capable of coming up to the expectations, but their patience to wait is succinct. There is no farfetched example required for this, just look at the inauguration of the Prime Minster Imran Khan’s government, and subsequent impetuous demands of the people for every announcement of the PM to be substantiated within no time. Everyone knew the circumstances, under which the Prime Minister took over – the collapsing economy, the personalized institutions from the past, the politicized bureaucracy, all the former ruling elite united for turning newly elected government’s upside down, thin majority in the National Assembly, and unexperienced government. People want to see tangible results on manifesto and promises from the very first day. Same is going to be with every one – whether individual member or government as whole – the expectations are piled up, and how to deal with and deliver is on the shoulder of the elected representatives.
You might have heard people saying that prices of essential commodities were low and bearable under a certain government, or many development programs were initiated under a certain elected representative, or there was much corruption in a certain period and so on. One can argue that time and circumstances are different and one cannot expect the same thing to happen, but people are habitual of comparisons. If a winning candidate finds luck with good circumstances as compare to their predecessors, chances are they will be declared all-time favorite by their voters irrespective of the capacity and role of the then representatives. If otherwise, even the best intentions and capabilities of the representatives weigh little. Aspiring candidates either need to educate their voters or be ready for the comparison and resultant positioning in the eyes of their voters, if not in the eyes of history.
In societies with strong democratic roots and traditions, elected tier of the government can be more powerful than the executive tier, however, in Gilgit-Baltistan, traditionally executive tier has been exercising its powers on equal footings and sometimes even more than the elected tier. Also, traditionally, there has been important stake of the armed forces in the region. Given the important role of the armed forces and executive tier, the elected tier is not wholly and solely responsible for decision making. For policy making, planning and implementation, coordination and consensus among the stakeholders are what makes them successful and effective. Therefore, while promising on deliverables, candidates and their parties need not accede than what can be within reach.
Currently, there is no elected tier of local government in GB, therefore, the members of GBLA are the ones, people think, should be accessible to them for the matters, which otherwise could be the domain local government. It is yet to be the part of comprehension and understanding of the people that the domain of a member of GBLA is legislation, policy formulation and direction, and matters of strategic importance at provincial level and decision making. People seek solutions of their local issues of infrastructure development, unemployment, provision of services, and sometimes conflict resolutions. The members, on their part, are also more interested in these tasks as they know these keep them near to their constituency and work in these areas is considered as performance by common people, also this gives them opportunity, if they wish so, to be more benign towards their chosen circle. Until there is no change in understanding of people as well as the representatives, there will remain unrealistic expectations and resultant gratification or disappointment.
This is no denying the fact the fact that GB is part of the unsettled issue and current arrangement is provisional, therefore, uncertainty is what should be taken as certain. The uncertainty will leave room for change in the setup any anytime, so the elected representative cannot take it for granted. Secondly, for almost everything, the provincial government has to look towards federal government, and any up and down in Islamabad triggers turbulent waves here in GB. Susceptible is every government of GB to this vulnerability and forgetting this while erecting magnificent edifice of promises with people may result in tearing it apart by the power politics in Islamabad. Taking this into account can provide the people of GB to be more realistic about their expectations as well as limitations of their representatives in a situation like that.
GB has been tax free under various obligations and also subsidy is being provided on wheat and electricity. In past, there have been attempts from various governments to bring GB under tax net and also limiting or withdrawing subsidies have been discussed time and again. On each occasion, the reaction of GB people has been that of no acceptance, jointly pronounced by all segments of the society, and this has averted the impending levy of taxes and withdrawal of subsidies. However, it is understandable that there will not be tax amnesty and subsidies forever, and somehow some measures will be taken by successive governments to introduce and implement taxation and withdrawal of subsidies. If candidates base their manifesto on these subjects might get disappointed in face of the ever-increasing challenges and demand for resources for provincial government as well as obligation to be part of National Finance Commission (NFC) award.
Scenario of pre and post elections also speaks a volume about how fleeting are realities and promises. When candidates win, their interaction on individual level with people almost comes to an end and so is the fulfilment of promises on individual level. The elected representatives then make themselves available to gathering of people and the bigger the gatherings the better it suits them, and if the gatherings are full of slogans in favors of them, it makes them feel the importance of the position they hold. Sometimes, people who would associate demands and expectations with candidates in elections, after the candidates’ win, instead of following up and pushing for fulfillment of promises, resort to people pleasing remarks, which in disguise, vindicate the representatives of the obligations, expectations and promises.
The political parties, which include all the best things in world int their manifesto, once in power, find little or no time for the pressing needs in their constituency or their priorities of a given time does not allow to pay attention to what people demand. As a result, to get their pressing needs heard, the people tend to work on various campaigns including lobbying, advocacy, protest and agitation and sometimes to the extent of erupting violent actions and reaction. This has been the case not only in our country, but even in developed countries, sometimes people adopt these tactics for resolution of their issues or meeting their demands. So, while believing in what candidates say the people better have in their minds that it is not through the promises of the candidate, which could deliver, rather they will have to, at some point or other, resort to pressing for their demands through whatever convenient campaigns.
With access to mass media, citizen journalism has touched new heights of outreach, and freedom of expression has gained a medium of communication of unprecedented scale. Although, candidates or elected representatives might not physically go to wherever and to everyone, but through media, everyone can have access to them and likewise on their part. A word of appreciation for the performance of a representative can reverberate through various channels, similar is the case with critique of inability or inappropriate conduct. Existing issues needing attention and newly emerging challenges make their way to social and electronic media, which on one hand, offer opportunity to the representatives to keep themselves abreast with and take actions necessary for redressal, while on other hand, an otherwise scenario, may bring harsh criticism through the same platforms and undermine the public image of the representatives. The candidates, and elected representatives of both to be treasury benches and opposition, can benefit from media in making themselves relevant and stand up to the occasion of their responsibilities, and also reduce the chances of becoming prey to due or undue criticism in face of freedom of expression by aligning their promises and performances.