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Imran Ali

The Express Tribune

Published Date: May 2, 2013

Opening doors wider

With
the election season upon us, political parties have unveiled their manifestos
that mirror the ideology and vision they uphold. Although this has not been a
traditional political practice, presenting manifestos has become the new norm.
The voter of today is more aware and concerned about the commitments that a
party makes and how well it fulfils them. A manifesto has thus become a tool
for electoral campaigning and a benchmark to evaluate the performance of
contesting parties.

One
can sense change in the upcoming elections because for the first time in
Pakistan’s history, over 25 million youth are about to use their right to vote.
This may be a reason why political parties are compelled to include a brief
chapter on youth in their manifestos.

Promises
of youth empowerment are common in all electoral manifestos. The PPP wishes to
engage the youth in policymaking at the grassroots level after embodying the
Youth Policy and the Ministry of Youth Affairs during its last term. This is
akin to the concept that the PTI proposes: to invoke youth through Jawan Markaz
— a comparatively broader and wider concept. The PML-N proposes a Dynamic Youth
Policy, whereas the PML-Q vows to conduct annual student summits, compared with
the ANP’s Volunteer Movement. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the JUI-F have
similar plans.

The
good thing is that parties have anticipated the power of youth. The bad thing
is that none of the political parties plan to build upon the successful
experiences of existing youth institutions, such as the National Boy Scouts and
Girls Guides Movement.

Another
often overlooked and politically alienated segment of our social fabric is the
religious minority. Manifestos of all parties pledge to defend and protect them
through mantras of equality and zero tolerance when it comes to discrimination
and violence against them. Almost all major parties aim to curb forced
conversions and marriages, and abolish the secondary status of minorities.
Earlier, the PPP had pledged to establish a National Commission of Religious
Minorities. It has also vowed to the raise quota of minorities in the
legislature and public service. Ironically, during the PPP’s tenure, religious
minorities were brutally victimised and it failed to protect them against
sectarian violence.

According
to the Election Commission of Pakistan, 43 per cent of eligible voters are
women. It expects 40 per cent of them to turn out on election day. Considering
this huge vote bank, mainstream parties have included women issues within their
manifestos. The PPP pledges to take institutional initiatives to abolish
violence again women. Conversely, the party is being criticised for failing to
protect women’s rights. Credible reports indicate that the frequency and
intensity of violence against women has increased by seven per cent during the
PPP’s rule. The PML-N, on the other hand, advocates land rights for women,
while the PTI vows to implement what it calls the Proactive Gender Policy,
which supports the abrogation of gender discriminatory laws in the
Constitution.

It
is interesting to note that the Urdu version of the JUI-F manifesto did not
specify the party’s plans pertaining to women; however, the English version
ensures safety and protection of women’s rights entwined with Islamic
principles, much like what the JI proposes.

Let
us have a pre-poll examination of the promises that the parties have made. Only
36 women candidates have been awarded tickets for the 272 seats of the National
Assembly by all the major parties. Visibly, gender equality has been overlooked
in terms of, at least, numerical representation of women. The PPP in 2008 had
granted 15 tickets to women, but this time it has positioned only 11 women in
the electoral arena. The PML-N has given tickets to seven female candidates, as
has the MQM, while the PTI has nominated only four female candidates. The ANP
has fielded only two female candidates for the National Assembly.

It
is up to the voter to determine which party to vote for. What is important to
remember is that the winning party’s rule will be evaluated on the basis of its manifesto.
The voter must choose wisely. Otherwise, we may be at risk of seeing the same
“performance” that we have seen in the last five years.