There’s a lull today. After three weeks of campaigning everything has stopped. I’m in a car on the road to Lahore from where I’ll be reporting on the vote tomorrow. Maybe I’m too much of a political junkie but I find election days to be a magical time, filled with optimism and the feeling that anything is possible. After watching last night’s big rallies that’s how I feel now. Whatever happens, change is in the air as the PPP is all but certain to lose its status as the biggest party.
But who will win? It’s all but impossible to forecast the result with any certainty. Here are some thoughts while we wait to find out:
Imran’s barn storming campaign has worked in as much as he is now impossible to ignore
But he still will struggle to convert momentum into seats going up against PML-Ns election juggernaut
Unless turn-out is substantially above 50% – in which case the traditional vote banks will be under pressure
The PPP will not be wiped out – agriculture is still doing OK helping its rural heartlands
But there are no reliable polling data to help work out what is going on
What we are left with is gut feeling, anecdote and an assumption that this election will work the same way as previous ones
Nate Silver would be doing his nut
What if we are all missing the real story of this election because all we have is noise and we can’t find the signal?
What if the consensus is wrong?
I’m not saying Imran will win. Citing his momentum as evidence of seats would be to make the same mistake.
I’m saying we don’t know.
We have heard a lot about the youth vote in this election. Something like 20% of voters are aged 18-25. For many, this will be the first time they have voted. That’s a heck of a lot of votes up for grabs.
Imran Khan appears to have made the biggest inroads. His party is the most active on social media and the rallies of his I’ve attended have been notable for the huge numbers of students or the recently graduated. His message of change, of rejecting a corrupt political elite that has had plenty of opportunities to govern in the past, seems to be resonating with the young and optimistic.
So perhaps it is not surprising that this morning the Pakistan People’s Party has hit back with newspaper adverts pointing out that Imran Khan for all his energy is 60. Instead, it offers 24-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as the real hope for change, with the tagline:
Only young leadership can bring a revolution!
I’m not in favour of one party or another. But I’m not entirely sure this strategy will work for the PPP. In fact, it may well backfire. Not only is Bilawal so young that he cannot even stand in this election – plastering his image all over the papers reminds us that no-one knows where on earth he is.
Not so much roses on the road as on the carpet. This bed of petals was laid out in front of the stage last Monday in Attock, where Imran Khan held a rally before some 15,000 people or so, in an area that was presumably supposed to act as a security buffer between him and the crowd. Just before he took the stage, dozens of supporters surged through the barriers and danced to the music that pumped from the speakers, crushing the petals underfoot and sending their scent into the air.
It starts with the music: a pumping rock song that sends power chords crashing through the audience.
Then come the rose petals, great fistfuls thrown overhead, speckling the air red and sending their fragrance through the overheating crowd.
Finally, flanked by armed police officers, Imran Khan bounds on to the stage…
You can hear my RTE World Report here
The pic I posted yesterday is a reminder of the vast number of roses that are stripped of their petals for the election campaign. Here’s a bunch of chaps I met in Karachi in March. They’d brought their truck loaded with rose petals to greet Pervez Musharraf. They were from some sort of workers’ group and were handing out bags of petals to Mush’s supporters. He’s not smelling of roses so much any more…
Quick round up of Sudan election relatedish things…
Polling Day and A Complex Election – Hafiz Mohammed on how there’s simply not enough hours in the day to fill in the dastardly complex ballot papers
When is an election boycott not an election boycott? When it takes place in Sudan
Rigged Elections in Darfur and the Consequences of a Probable NCP Victory in Sudan – The International Crisis Group’s verdict
SUDAN VOTES MUSIC HOPES Trailer – it aint Things Can Only Get Better, thankfully
Sudan’s election: Let those people go – “despite all these flaws, it is to be hoped that it will go ahead. If it does, the outside world should hold its nose and accept the result. For the election could lead to progress on one front in a country that is pitifully short of the stuff: it could result in a peaceful division of Sudan between north and south.”
wars aren’t pointless – Texas in Africa sums up debate over Geoffrey Gettleman’s Forever Wars argument. I’m with Gettleman
Confusing and depressing news from Sudan, where the main opposition parties have withdrawn their candidates for this month’s presidential election, following the SPLM’s decision to withdraw last night.
There is no doubt the elections will not be free and fair. The International Crisis Group report earlier this week made clear that the rigging had already been done. So maybe the opposition is boycotting the ballot to draw attention to the flawed process.
However, where Sudanese politics is concerned you can be sure that few actors are making decisions based on principle. The real reasons remain shrouded in mystery. Anyone who tells you they know what is going on is a fool.
So I’ll speculate: For my money, there is something pretty shabby going on.
- The NCP of President Bashir needs to win the presidential elections. A resounding victory is the best way of heading off the International Criminal Court and cementing Bashir’s shaky legitimacy.
- The SPLM doesn’t want the presidency of a united Sudan. It wants the referendum next January and secession.
This way both sides get way they want – while the Sudanese people wonder what sort of democracy it is that leaves them with bit parts in the political process.
Debate about potential delay to Sudanese elections continues, with some opposition parties wanting the ballot postponed to ensure a fairer process. Hassan al-Turabi’s centrifugal forces, though, are a valid concern and less than perfect elections may be the best we can hope for.
But should we settle for that? One of my colleagues in Nairobi used to say it was racist to adopt a different set of standards in Africa. Why have one standard for the UK, say, and another for Sudan? It’s a fair point. The difference is that the UK is unlikely to pull itself apart if elections are postponed.
It’s not hard to sneer at diplomats. Particularly those who have learned the art at the United Nations. And, being a journalist, it’s something that comes easy to me. I’ve done it already on this blog several times. You know the sort of thing – making fun of their platitudes, using the term “diplomatic” as a euphemism for “weak” or “weasle” words (or vice versa), and generally suggesting that anything other than overnight success in conflict resolution is a total disaster.
But I’m developing a sort of grudging respect for Kofi Annan’s way of doing things.
His efforts haven’t really achieved much of a breakthrough in tackling Kenya’s post-election violence. We have had hints of a big, power-sharing deal only for them to peter out by the time the ink on the next day’s headlines has dried.
Instead we’ve had a series of very small deals. A commitment to talks, first up. Then to end the violence. Then an agreement on an agenda. A narrowing of options. And today an agreement to set up an independent review of the elections and that constitutional reform is needed. That sort of thing.
And it’s starting to work. The two sides are locked into talks and a sort of momentum is building. We are at the point where it is almost impossible for either side to walk away without being accusing of sabotaging the country’s fragile peace. There’s still a long way to go but it’s gradually becoming more difficult for things to slide backwards.
So Adam Wood, British High Commissioner to Kenya, was called in by the country’s foreign minister, Amos Wetangula, for clarification on Britain’s attitude to President Mwai Kibaki today. Or at least that’s how British Foreign Office staff characterised the meeting.
I’m not quite sure there was any need for clarification. Here’s what Meg Munn, Foreign Office minister, said in the House of Commons last week when asked whether the Foreign Office formally recognised Kibaki as president of Kenya.
Our Government have not recognised the Government and are calling on both leaders to co-operate in a process of mediation.
And she was only echoing what David Miliband, foreign secretary had said a week or so earlier on BBC Radio 4′s PM programme when asked, who is president of Kenya?
Well at the moment there isn’t a recognised Government in Kenya. We’ve had an election and it’s disputed and the dispute centres on some very we, seemingly very well founded allegations of irregularities that have been exposed by the European Union amongst others and very few Governments around the world have recognised President Kibaki after the election.
That answer was hardly a slip of the tongue. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has posted the transcript of the interview on its website to make the matter crystal clear… as if there were any room for doubt.