Rallies of little importance
Political rally season is once again upon Pakistan. No one event or grievance appears to have precipitated the season this time, except perhaps for the age-old need of political parties to remain, or become, politically relevant.
The bungled response of the PML-N to the Panama Papers was perhaps the signal for the PTI leadership to return to what it does best: hold elaborate rallies that end with the promise of further rallies elsewhere.
Meanwhile, in Karachi, the party of sorts that Mustafa Kamal is trying to cobble together as a political alternative to the MQM, the party that made Mr Kamal famous, held its inaugural public event at a stone’s throw from the Quaid’s mausoleum.
Read: PTI’s foundation day event a crowd puller
But Mr Kamal and his Pak Sarzameen Party already appear to have entangled themselves in a contradiction: how does a party of the self-professed middle class with no known political footprint arrange the funds for the professional and sophisticated set-up on display at the Karachi rally? But such quaint concerns do not appear to worry Mr Kamal or his backers.
It is the struggle between the PTI and the PML-N, however, that will be the focus nationally in the weeks to come. Signs of the PTI switching to early campaign mode have meant that the PML-N is unwilling to be left behind.
Perhaps better sense will prevail and the federal government will not trigger a round of election-style rallies of its own in various parts of the country; but when it comes to the PML-N responding to the PTI, better sense rarely prevails.
As for the PTI, it is difficult to discern much of a strategy in its latest efforts to mobilise its supporters. While rallies help keep the PTI in the news and may reinforce the party’s image as the leading opposition to the PML-N, the 2013 general election results suggested that what the party needs to do is improve its party structures at the local level to get out the vote on election day.
Organising rallies does the opposite of that, drawing political energy away from party-building and directing it to showy events, which have limited long-term political appeal.
What rally season demonstrates once again is that political parties are more keen to flex their political muscle than work on systemic solutions to the country’s chronic problems.
The PTI has the choice to both organise rallies and press for real financial and transparency reforms inside parliament.
But there is no sign of the latter. Similarly, the PML-N rather than focusing simply on clearing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s name could also use the Panama Papers disclosures to moot tax and financial reforms that would provide lasting benefits to state and society.
Sadly, political rallies are easier to organise than the hard work of legislative change and political reform. As ever, rally season will likely be high on noise and low on significance.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2016
Rallies of little importance