Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan

Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Nawabzada Hajji Lashkari Raisani (center), a former senator and a candidate from NA-263 Quetta, is pictured during an election campaign in Quetta, Pakistan, on January 22, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Election posters are installed along the street in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Candidates of the Pakistan People's Party campaign for the upcoming general election in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
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Election posters are installed along the street in Quetta on January 24, 2024. (AN photo)
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Updated 13 February 2024
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Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan

Ahead of Feb. 8 elections, no break from dynastic politics in southwest Pakistan
  • Majority of Balochistan’s 442 candidates come from well-established tribal political backgrounds
  • Analysts say free environment could end ‘political engineering’ and bring change to province

QUETTA: For many like 38-year-old Mohammad Abid Hayat from the Pakistan National Assembly’s NA-263 constituency in the southwestern Balochistan province, the 2024 general elections come with little hope of change for voters who say political parties are following a decades-old pattern of promoting dynasties over grassroots politics.

Pakistan’s political landscape has long been dominated by well-established families, including the Sharif clan of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, a wealthy industrialist family from Punjab, and the Bhutto dynasty of feudal aristocrats that has ruled the southern Sindh province for decades, given the country two prime ministers and whose scion, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has now set his sights on the PM’s office.

Other than periods of military rule, the two rival families and the parties they founded swapped the reins of power frequently throughout the 1990s and formed governments until only recently, when cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan came to power through general elections in 2018 and ruled until 2022. But even 80 percent of Khan’s winning candidates in the 2018 elections in Punjab were dynasts despite the party rallying behind an anti-status quo banner, according to research by Dr. Hassan Javid, a former associate professor of sociology at LUMS who now teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley in Canada.

After Khan’s ouster from the PM’s office in a parliamentary no-trust vote in April 2022, Sharif’s younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, became prime minister until late last year, when he handed over the reins of government to a caretaker administration constitutionally mandated to oversee the next general elections, scheduled for Feb. 8.

In Balochistan, too, the country’s largest but most underdeveloped province, it is families, or tribes, who have been at the helm for decades. Out of 16 National Assembly seats from Balochistan province, 442 candidates are eligible to contest the upcoming elections, with a majority coming from tribal and well-established political backgrounds.

“There are many political families and tribal leaders who have been contesting elections under family-based politics for years,” Abid, a salesman at a local medical store, told Arab News on Quetta’s Patel Road, part of the NA-263 constituency where he will cast his vote.

“Dynastic politics discourages political workers who start their career from a grassroots political level from coming out to represent their people on the mainstream political ground … dynasties in politics erode voters’ trust … ahead of the general polls, it should end now.”

Syed Ali Shah, a senior journalist and political analyst based in Quetta, the provincial capital, said that despite having strong roots in the province, candidates from known families would face “tough competition in 95 percent of provincial and national assemblies.”

Journalist Saleem Shahid, who has covered general elections in Balochistan for the last five decades, agreed that independent candidates from non-political and middle-class backgrounds would prove to be a challenge for powerful candidates in some constituencies of the provincial capital, but added that “weaknesses” in the system served as an impediment to “common candidates” getting elected, such as political parties, armed with big money and vote banks, continuing to back known faces.

“Political parties have to nominate common people as their candidates, and political procedures should be allowed to continue without interference so it will change people’s mindset to elect candidates with strong ideological backgrounds,” Shahid, who is the bureau chief for the daily Dawn newspaper in Quetta, said.

Still, a large number of independent candidates who hail from middle-class and lower-middle class families are contesting powerful political dynasties, tribal influencers and businessmen in the coming election, Shahid added.

Javed Ahmed Khan, 60, who is contesting from the provincial constituency PB-43 in Quetta district, said that he was running in general elections for the first time “to counter political dynasties and wealthy candidates who can’t even understand the basic issues of common voters.

In an interview with Arab News, he said: “Why can’t the son of a poor man become a politician or member of the parliament? They (wealthy candidates) vanish after being elected and close their doors on voters.”

“WHY DYNASTIES THRIVE”

But change will be a long and bumpy road in Balochistan, where the average resident lives on no more than $2.50 daily, while more than 90 percent of people lack access to clean drinking water and medical facilities, and rural illiteracy surpasses 90 percent. About 70 percent of the population live in remote rural areas and rely on well-connected, well-heeled dynasts and tribal leaders to provide everything from jobs to facilities like schools, water and gas.

Therefore, weakening dynastic politics will require urbanization of the province and changes in the very structure of its political economy and governance model, experts say.

The military’s outsized role in the running of the province, which has for decades been plagued by a low-level insurgency by separatist militants, and borders key rival nations like Afghanistan and Iran, also does not help, Quetta-based Shah added.

In Balochistan, there is a long and well-established history of the military pushing tribal elders and so-called “electables,” or candidates with large vote banks and political and economic clout, into preferred political parties or newly established ones ahead of each election, such as the Balochistan Awami Party, which was founded ahead of 2018 elections, thereby reinforcing the power of traditional families and well-entrenched tribal chieftains. The military denies that it interferes in political affairs.

“Since Pakistan’s creation, the country has been ruled by military dictators, hence dynastic politics have thrived,” Shah added.

Canada-based Javid agreed that Balochistan’s major problem is that the powerful establishment had backed so-called electables for the last three decades.

“The establishment’s political interference should end to stem dynastic politics from Pakistani society,” the professor told Arab News. “Not only in Balochistan’s tribal society, the political dynasties ruling over the people in Sindh and Punjab provinces as well are based on community and ethnic-based politics.”

Take the Raisani tribe, whose former senator Nawabzada Hajji Lashkari Raisani is an independent candidate from NA-263 Quetta city. Raisani’s elder brother, Nawab Aslam Raisani, is contesting 2024 polls for a provincial seat, PB-35 Mastung, from the platform of Pakistan’s key religious party, the Jamiyet Ulma-e-Islam. His nephew, Nawabzada Jamal Khan Raisani, is a national assembly candidate in NA-264 for the Pakistan People’s Party.

Speaking to Arab News, Lashkari Raisani said that political dynasties existed all over the world, from the Gandhi family in India to the Kennedy or Bush families in the US.

“In the US, the Kennedy and Bush families have been doing dynastic politics,” he said. “It is not an issue because in parliamentary politics, vote has a significant importance (no matter what family you are from).”

Another candidate, PPP’s former senator Rozi Khan Kakar, who is a national assembly candidate from NA-263, and whose younger brother Noor ud Din Kakaris is standing for the provincial seat PB-41, defended his brother’s nomination, saying that the ticket was given on merit.

“My younger brother is an active party worker who served as the party’s district president for five years and established 200 new units in Quetta,” Kakar said. “Hence, he was nominated as the party’s election candidate on PB-41 by the central leadership based on performance, not on my personal will.”

Many voters believe that the power to break the status quo lies in their hands, urging ordinary people in Balochistan to throw their weight behind pro-poor parties and make efforts to organize around a progressive economic agenda.

“In 2024 polls, I request the voters to support election candidates belonging to middle-class families,” said Alam Khan Kakar, a voter from Quetta’s PB-41 constituency, “in order to get rid of political families ruling for three generations for their personal gains rather than delivering for the public.”

“MATURITY WILL TAKE TIME”

Analysts say that “free and fair” elections in the province are the only solution to bring new faces into politics.

Though Balochistan is famous for “political engineering” ahead of general polls, Javid said that “a change in political leadership from middle-class backgrounds” is possible in the next one or two elections, depending on whether a free political environment is allowed for candidates and voters.

For 2024, the sociologist does not see much hope for new faces “because the political dynasties will change their party affiliations but the faces will remain the same.”

The cost of holding elections also keeps out new entrants in the impoverished region.

Shah, the analyst, said: “Today, the expenditures for contesting elections have reached millions of rupees, thus it is a daydream for a middle-class man in Balochistan.

“We are in a transition period but maturity will take time.”


Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit

Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit
Updated 26 May 2024
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Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit

Zelensky urges Biden, Xi to join peace summit
  • Moscow’s forces have in recent weeks advanced on the battlefield and stepped up air strikes on cities
  • Kyiv hopes the June meeting in Switzerland will help pile international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin

KYIV: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Sunday to join an upcoming peace summit as his country struggles to stave off unrelenting attacks by Russia in its 27-month-old invasion.
Moscow’s forces have in recent weeks advanced on the battlefield and stepped up air strikes on cities, and Kyiv hopes the June meeting in Switzerland will help pile international pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In English-language video recorded inside the charred remains of a printing press destroyed on Thursday in a Russian air strike, Zelensky said the summit would “show who in the world really wants to end the war.”
“I am appealing to the leaders of the world who are still aside from the global efforts of the Global Peace Summit – to President Biden, the leader of the United States, and to President Xi, the leader of China,” he said.
“Please, show your leadership in advancing the peace – the real peace and not just a pause between the strikes.
Russia has said it sees no point in the conference to which Moscow is not currently invited.
Zelensky’s comments came two days after Russian sources told Reuters that Putin was ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognizes the current battlefield lines.
Zelensky and Ukraine’s supporters say a ceasefire will only help Russia rearm and regroup.
Russia has in recent months made slow but steady gains along several parts of the sprawling eastern front and is attempting to push deeper into the northeastern Kharkiv region after a ground incursion launched earlier this month.
In an interview with Reuters last week, Zelensky said it was crucial to get as many countries around the table at the peace talks as possible. Putin has said he believes the talks may convert Ukrainian demands for a Russian withdrawal into an ultimatum for Russia.


Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’

Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’
Updated 26 May 2024
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Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’

Taiwan’s president says open to working with China on ‘peace’
  • China launched military games around the island three day last week
  • President Lai Ching-te made overtures to Beijing before his inauguration to resume communications

TAIPEI: Taiwan’s president said Sunday he was still open to working with China on building “mutual understanding and reconciliation,” days after Beijing launched military drills around the self-ruled island in response to his inauguration speech.
President Lai Ching-te was sworn into office on Monday, and China — which claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory and regards Lai as a “dangerous separatist” — launched military games around the island three days later.
Fighter jets, naval vessels and coast guard ships encircled Taiwan until Friday night, which Chinese military analysts said was to practice seizing it.
On Sunday, Lai said his May 20 inaugural speech highlighted that “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is a necessary element for global security and prosperity.”
“I also called on China to jointly shoulder the important responsibility of regional stability with Taiwan,” he said during an event with his Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in southern Tainan.
“I also look forward to enhancing mutual understanding and reconciliation through exchanges and cooperation with China... and moving toward a position of peace and common prosperity.”
He added that “any country making waves in the Taiwan Strait and affecting regional stability will not be accepted by the international community.”
Lai made overtures to Beijing before his inauguration to resume communications — severed since 2016 after former president Tsai Ing-wen took office.
Like Lai, Tsai is also part of the DPP, which holds a stance of defending Taiwan’s sovereignty.
In response, Beijing has upped military and political pressures on Taiwan, and its naval vessels, drones and warplanes maintain a near-daily presence around the island.
On Sunday, two days after the drills ended, Taiwan’s defense ministry reported that seven Chinese aircraft, 14 naval vessels and four coast guard ships were “operating around” the island in a 24-hour period ending at 06:00 a.m. (2200 GMT Saturday).


Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician

Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician
Updated 26 May 2024
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Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician

Moldova turns to Russia to seek extradition of convicted politician
  • The Victory bloc, made up of four parties, campaigns with the slogan “No to the EU” and calls for Moldova instead to join the Eurasian Economic Union — a Russian-led regional grouping

CHISINAU: Moldova is now seeking extradition from Russia of an opposition politician convicted of mass fraud after he moved there from exile in Israel, the country’s justice minister said on Saturday.
Ilan Shor, a pro-Russian business magnate, was sentenced last year in absentia to 15 years in prison in connection with the disappearance from the banking system of $1 billion in 2014, dubbed Moldova’s “theft of the century.”
Shor has organized noisy street demonstrations against pro-European President Maia Sandu and urged Moldovans to vote “no” in a referendum authorities have called for October on joining the European Union by 2030.
Justice Minister Veronica-Mihailov Moraru said Moldova would redirect its extradition appeals to Moscow after Shor said he had moved to Russia and announced he had been granted Russian citizenship.
“The justice ministry has not been informed of this by the Russian authorities,” she told TVR Moldova television.
“If we are advised officially that he holds Russian citizenship, we will analyze the circumstances and consider how to act in procedural terms.”
Moldova, an ex-Soviet state lying between Ukraine and Romania, had repeatedly sought Shor’s extradition from Israel.
After his conviction, a party bearing Shor’s name was banned by the Constitutional Court and a new party, called “Chance,” was formed in its place.
Shor is the driving force behind the “Victory” electoral bloc launched last month — in Moscow — to oppose the EU referendum and Sandu’s bid for re-election at a poll to be held on the same date.
He said last week he wanted to become prime minister if a president favorable to his views would nominate him.
Sandu denounces Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and describes Russia and corruption as the biggest threats to her country.
The Victory bloc, made up of four parties, campaigns with the slogan “No to the EU” and calls for Moldova instead to join the Eurasian Economic Union — a Russian-led regional grouping.
It has not yet decided on a candidate to run against Sandu. The opposition Socialists and Communists, also friendly to Moscow, oppose the pro-EU referendum but have shown little inclination to cooperate with Shor and the Victory bloc.


Polish students occupy top universities to cut ties with Israeli academia

Polish students occupy top universities to cut ties with Israeli academia
Updated 25 May 2024
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Polish students occupy top universities to cut ties with Israeli academia

Polish students occupy top universities to cut ties with Israeli academia
  • Students set up encampments at the University of Warsaw and Jagiellonian University
  • ‘We consider opposing genocide as our highest obligation,’ students say

WARSAW: Polish students have joined the global movement to end partnerships with Israeli institutions and were occupying the country’s top campuses on Saturday because of Israel’s war on Gaza.
Students and alumni of 12 universities in Poland have been calling on their management to publicly disclose which Israeli academia, research centers, organizations and companies they have been cooperating with and in what scope.
In open letters to rectors, they demanded that the universities “boycott Israeli institutions at the national and international level until the occupation of Palestine ends, recognize the right of Palestinians to equality and self-determination, and recognize the right of return for Palestinian refugees.”
As no action followed from university authorities, on Friday evening they set up encampments at the campuses of the University of Warsaw — the country’s largest academic institution — and of the Jagiellonian University — the oldest and most prestigious.
In a joint manifesto, the protesters said: “We will occupy the university space with our own bodies to demand action ... we consider opposing genocide as our highest obligation.”
Israeli airstrikes and ground offensives in Gaza have since October killed 36,000 Palestinians with more than 80,000 wounded, the vast majority children and women. Many have lost their lives as most of the hospitals have been flattened by bombardment and no medical assistance could reach them.
Protesting students say that failing to oppose the onslaught would mean tacit consent — and complicity.
The University of Warsaw is linked through a research project to the Ben-Gurion University, whose Homeland Security Institute partners with the biggest Israeli arms manufacturers such as Elbit Systems, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and the Israeli Ministry of Defense. It is also linked to the University of Haifa, which runs special programs for Israeli forces and intelligence.
“As a student, I feel I should have a say in what our university is investing and what its partners are. We know that the university is tied to the Israeli army, forces and apartheid system,” Agnieszka, a sociology student and one of the coordinators of the strike at the University of Warsaw, told Arab News.
“That’s why I’m here ... I hope it will change something.”
Agnieszka was speaking from behind the university gate, which has been locked since Friday evening as campus authorities sealed all entry points, preventing anyone from leaving or getting inside.
People were coming to the gate and the campus fence to bring the students water, food and power banks, and to show support.
While no one could join their encampment anymore, the dozens of students gathered inside believed they could bring change.
“We’ve been protesting since October against the genocide that is occurring in Gaza, and now we’re sort of bringing it closer,” said Nena, who studies at the Faculty of Philosophy.
“We have more direct impact on the institutions we are part of.”
At the same time, 300 km away, students of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow were also locked up at their campus, posing the same demands as those in Warsaw, and vowing that they “will not be indifferent, will not be silent, will not be passive,” as they called for others to join.
“It’s important for me to be here,” Gabriela, an international relations student told Arab News from the Krakow protest site. “It’s important to show solidarity with other encampments around the world, so that authorities can’t ignore our demands any longer.”
The University of Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University have not engaged in any discussions with the protesters. Neither university commented on whether it would agree to the students’ demands. The spokesperson of the Jagiellonian University said that to “ensure the safety of the strike participants,” there was a person “appointed to monitor the situation.”


Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes

Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes
Updated 25 May 2024
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Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes

Millions of Indians beat extreme heat to cast votes
  • 111 million people vote in election’s penultimate phase
  • Temperature in New Delhi soared to more than 44 degrees Celsius

NEW DELHI: Voters in Delhi braved a sweltering heatwave on Saturday as they queued at polling stations in the penultimate phase of India’s general election.
The voting, which more than 968 million people have been eligible to do, started on April 19. Some of India’s 28 states and eight federally governed territories completed the process in a single day, while others have spread it out.
The sixth phase of the poll covered the capital, Delhi, as well as the neighboring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and Bihar in the country’s east, and Jammu and Kashmir.
In Delhi, voters queued to cast their ballots despite the temperature soaring to over 44 degrees Celsius — with humidity making it feel like 56 C, according to reports — prompting the Election Commission to deploy paramedics to some polling stations.
While there have been concerns over voter turnout — with the first phase estimated to have seen at least 4 percent fewer people take part than in 2019’s election — those who arrived to cast their votes said there was no way the heat could deter them.
“Voting is the only way we can convey our feelings toward governance. It is a decisive way. To spend one hour in the line after five years is not a big deal for us,” said Karan Sharma, who was voting in the East Delhi constituency.
“We were complaining about the heat, but ... it’s a duty, it’s like eating food. After every five years, the festival comes, we have to participate in it.”
For Kavita Wadhwa, who cast her vote in the New Delhi constituency, it was a matter of exercising her rights.
“We have the right to select our own leaders,” she told Arab News. “It’s important for us ... It’s a democratic country.”
The election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014.
He is challenged by an alliance of two dozen opposition parties — the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA), led by the Congress Party, which ruled the country for close to 45 years following its independence in 1947.
Modi’s key contender is Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi, a grandson of Indira Gandhi, and a great-grandson of Jawaharlal Nehru — all of whom were prime ministers of India.
Gandhi also cast his vote in Delhi on Saturday, after which he took to social media to encourage others to follow suit.
“Your vote will not only improve your life but will also protect democracy and the Constitution,” he said on X. “Come out of your homes in large numbers and vote for your rights and the future of your family.”
Around 111 million people were eligible to vote in the sixth phase of the election. Some of them, like Arohi Anand, were voting for the first time.
“I think it’s a great right ... The government is for us — if we don’t vote, it is on us,” he told Arab News. “(The heat) is a secondary thing. The most important thing is our vote, because the government is the most important thing; it will shape our future.”
The party or coalition that wins at least 272 of the 543 contested seats in the lower house of parliament will form the government.
The first five phases of the election have already decided the fate of 429 representatives. Saturday’s vote will add another 58.
The seventh and final phase of the election will be held on June 1. Vote counting will take place on June 4.