There’s a large section of Pakistani voters who don’t want to vote for the usual suspects, regardless of which party’s clothes they have chosen to don for the upcoming elections.
For many, there aren’t any options beyond the usual, but if you’re lucky enough to be in a certain constituency, you may well have an alternative choice. TNS spoke to two such people, on how they are raising funds for their campaigns and what their campaign strategies are.
Ammar Rashid, from the Awami Workers Party, is contesting from NA-53 Islamabad. “We are mostly crowd-sourcing the campaign; we have a finance appeal out on social media,” he says. “We are also raising funds through our supporters, mostly small donations of a few thousand rupees here and there, it’s not much, but enough to cover some basic expenditures.”
Rashid lets on that with the funds they have, they can’t have major gatherings, and instead, are focusing on door-to-door campaigning, going to markets and other public spaces, making direct contact with the voters in the constituency.
He admits that the larger parties, with access to huge funds of money for campaigning have a great advantage. “Campaign finance is seriously lopsided in Pakistan — there is no concept of public funding — nor a concept of having a bare minimum support for all candidates and no regulation of campaign expenditure by major parties so they can literally spend as much as they like. There needs to be a more level-playing field.”
Still, he believes that they are connecting with the voters. “The response has been great — people are welcoming, and encouraging — saying we need new political players who are not from the 1 per cent and closer to ordinary people like them.”
Jibran Nasir is a well known human rights activist who is contesting for two seats in Karachi — NA-247 and PS-111 — previously NA-250 and PS-113, which he contested and lost in 2013. How has he spent the last five years, and how is he better prepared?
“I have worked on my credentials, not just by slogans, but by actual service delivery,” he tells me. “‘We have a simple motto: Khauf aur Maslehat se azad: Nobody can say that they have come to Jibran with one cause or another on which he did not speak because of any vested interest.” All this, he feels, has brought a response from the voters which was absent in 2013. “The awam is aware, they see you, and they respond.”
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About how his campaign is being funded, Nasir goes to great pain to explain how open his books are. “It’s all in the people’s hands,” he tells me, pointing of course to the public appeal for funds. “I am perhaps the only candidate who, while releasing his account details, did not put in the IBAN details, as there are no international transfers,” even though, “there are so many Pakistanis abroad who support us.” Instead, they have been told to transfer to a relative locally, who may then deposit for the campaign.
All the support Nasir is now getting is, in his words, from those people who have been by his side over the past five years, albeit silently, and have now come out to support him and his cause. “We have a song releasing on July 5, none of the people involved have taken a penny for their time and effort,” he says. “This is because of the work I’ve done, the goodwill I’ve created, and the difficult conversations that I have brought up and taken a stand on.”