Making an alternative possible

Hassan Ijaz visits the people's campaign burgeoning in Islamabad ahead of the general elections

Making an alternative possible
It is no secret that there is a general sense of pessimism shared by the Pakistani electorate ahead of the general elections this month. Mainstream political parties have been unabashedly pouring money into their constituencies in a bid to entice crowds and manipulate consent of the common people. Despite their effort, there seems to be a prevailing sense of despondency among voters, as they feel that all options available to them in this election have failed to address their everyday needs, that of basic healthcare, education and economic opportunities. Besides this, they are not sure if this election will be a free and fair process, or whether they will be told later that it was rigged.

Now, more than ever, Pakistan needs a political alternative, one that claims to represent aspirations of the people, not the ruling elite or the establishment. Two candidates from Islamabad, contesting elections from Awami Workers Party (AWP), are hoping to do just that: present the citizens of Islamabad an alternative to their mainstream choices.

I recently participated in Ismat Shahjehan and Ammar Rashid’s campaign in Islamabad and saw firsthand how a people’s campaign can be run through resourcefulness and creativity, and without big money and shallow rhetoric.

Ismat Shahjehan, contesting on AWP’s ticket from NA-54, told me that her foray into the electoral sphere was not her abandoning her politics of resistance. Rather, it was her way of resisting the culture of manipulation of elections through money, identity politics and exploitation of women and marginalised communities.
Reimaging and reinventing Left politics in a country with deeply-entrenched notions of nationalism. religious extremism and military supremacy over civilians is indeed a hard task for AWP

Reimaging and reinventing Left politics in a country with deeply-entrenched notions of nationalism. religious extremism and military supremacy over civilians is indeed a hard task for AWP. A number of movements for civil liberties foreran the entrance of AWP into parliamentary politics. These movements took up struggles of women, farmers, workers and missing persons. The party also ran solidarity campaigns for Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM). All these struggles raised by AWP workers have long been overlooked by right-wing political parties and these are the real issues of the citizens of Pakistan. AWP’s candidates hope to elicit an alternative electoral narrative, one that includes precedents set by all recent movements of resistance against exploitation, discrimination and seclusion of people on the peripheries from parliamentary politics.

Talking to this scribe during her election campaign last week, Ismat Shahjehan said, ‘’We must build a people’s campaign which is inclusive because that is the essence of democracy. AWP will begin this people’s campaign from the capital, because lest we forget, this city is beautiful because of the immense hard work of its workers, who still do not get livable wages nor have roofs over their heads.”

As a socialist party, AWP have long been opposing many facets of the economic system that governs Pakistan. The party believes that this system cannot provide jobs to the youth, climate security for farmers and favorable working conditions to workers. AWP is also campaigning on free education and healthcare facilities in remote areas, where billions of rupees have been plundered in the name of development projects.

Talking to this scribe, Ammar Rashid, AWP’s candidate from NA-53, said, “Keeping in view the economic problems of Pakistan and seeing how people’s movements are being suppressed, and that climate change is destroying our living conditions, we cannot just sit and wait for meaningful change. Our march towards the parliament is only the first step.”

Citing a previous AWP campaign for regularisation of katchi abadis (informal settlements) in Islamabad, a housing campaign for people who cannot afford good homes, he said, ‘’It is painful to see that the people who have built Islamabad, who have made it home for millions of people, do not have a roof to take shelter under.’’

AWP’s election campaign has drawn a lot of support on social media and it is obvious that the party is popular among residents of katchi abadis since they were the only party sympathetic to their cause. The candidates are also continuing their unrelenting door-to-door campaign. One hopes that the people of Islamabad respond to the alternative being offered by the AWP.