WITH elections just around the corner, there is no escaping the fact that for voters this year, the contest is once again less about choosing between competing ideologies and more about the personalities of the key leaders in the running. The three leading parties the PML-N, PPP and PTI waited till days before the Feb 8 election to finally release their manifestos. Ideally, manifestos are issued months in advance, but this time voters and commentators were not given the time or opportunity to go over their parties` plans in detail, analyse the viability of the promises made, and debate them with their peers. Not only that, a brief glance at the manifestos suggest that there is now very little that differentiates the parties` ideologically, barring their respective interests in putting either commerce and industry or the people or Islamic welfare and justice at the centre of their plans.
It is, of course, much easier to rally the masses with slogans like `four legs good, two legs bad` than to expend intellectual effort on understanding what problems they face and formulating well-reasoned solutions to them within a defined ideological framework. Unfortunately, the easy option is also the one which comes with added incentives in this age of social media which, though it has democratised access to and participation in political discourse, has also accelerated a decline in the intellectual quality of political debates. With audience attention spans shrinking rapidly, party leaders no longer seem to be bothering with cumbersome political philosophies and are focusing more on buzzwords and soundbites that have the potential to `go viral` on new mediums for mass communication. Sadly, a symptom of this gradual `dumbing down` of politics is the culture of name-calling that has picked up in recent years.
People like to blame one party or the other for `ruining the political culture` in Pakistan, but the truth is that what we have today was bound to happen because, over the years, most parties abandoned their ideologues for men and women of few qualities. Thanks also to the repeated interference in the country`s natural political development, political parties gradually abandoned their pursuit of ideologically defined pathways to progress to focus on the time-consuming task of survival and self-preservation. When such instincts take over, it is only natural for societies to devolve into baser versions of their selves. Of course, some of the smaller parties have stuck to their ideological roots and continued with a more classical approach to politics; however, considering their limited impact on the broader political framework, their contributions to political culture, though commendable, have largely been negligible. A course correction is needed; it must be added to the political stabilisation agenda for the post-election scenario.