An election we never expected to win
Farooq Tariq (19\05\2010 )
This was a bye election that none of us in the Pakistan Labour Party
ever expected to win. Still we threw ourselves into supporting Mian
Qayum’s candidacy. Now the whole constituency of Punjab Assembly 63
Faisalabad knows that there is a Labour Party and a Labour Qaumi
Movement that can take up the question of class struggle.
Although the seat was won by Ajmal Asif from the Pakistan Muslim League
Nawaz, Mian Qayum of LPP received nearly 3500 votes, winning six percent
of the vote.
this election the PMLN adopted Ajmal Asif, a former PMLQ member of
Punjab Assembly. Therefore the PMLQ did not have a candidate in this
election. But despite this “unity,” the winning candidate Ajmal Asif had
11,000 votes fewer than the two parties polled in 2008. In fact,
compared to the 2008 election, the “big” parties lost this time around.
PMLN 31000 PPP 23000 LPP 3500
PMLN 12000 PMLQ 30000 PPP 29400
2008, the PPP candidate, Rana Aftab Ahmad only lost by 400 votes.
Although he is president of the PPP in Punjab, in this by election, he
received considerably fewer votes. Voter turnout was only 40 percent,
less than at the general election.
difficult bye election
the beginning of the election campaign, when I contacted Ahsan Rashid,
president of Tehreek Insaaf Punjab (Imran Khan Party), to ask him to
support our candidate, he told me that the party decided not to contest
the bye elections because of the extremely different and difficult
situation. They had taken part in three bye elections earlier in the
year with their best result in Lahore where they received nearly 10,000
votes. Ihsan Rashid told me that there has been no registration of new
voters since 2002. As a consequence many who have become 18, have never
been registered. Additionally, he said that during by elections, the
government uses massive state resources. This observation by the
president of a party that has tremendous resources gave us knowledge of
what we would confront. Still we decided to go ahead, we had our
Faisalabad is Pakistan’s textile city. Suddar, a suburb with many power
looms and small textile factories, is one area of the constituency where
we had the beginning of a workers movement. Since 2004 the Labour Qaumi
Movement organized several industrial struggles in Faisalabad. We were
able to fight against bonded labour and to secure social security cards
for workers. Particularly during the last two years, the LQM has played
an important role in winning wage increases in Suddar area. We had held
several public meetings of the workers in Suddar and workers were
looking toward us as offering an alternative in the political arena as
According to one estimate, there are around 14,000 industrial workers in
this constituency. When the sitting member for the Punjab Assembly,
Ajmal Asif resigned after the fake graduation degree he presented for
his candidacy in 2008 general elections was exposed, a new election was
announced last March. We had no choice but to take part in the coming
elections. We could not tell workers to vote for one of the candidates
from a capitalist-feudal party nor could we ask them to abstain.
aim was to present an alternative and to do so with a worker candidate.
The general presumption in Pakistan is that only the rich can contest
elections. Certainly the PPP and PMLN always look for candidates who are
either rich or have the backing of the rich. We wanted to break this
had two main aspects to our campaign: public meetings and door-to-door
meetings. But we also had another weapon, wall chalking. Our candidate
had two brothers who were painters. They were often the first to reach
many areas with our message and election symbol APPLE. Our wall chalking
was everywhere in the constituency.
Teams were formulated to take up the various tasks. Women comrades
formed teams to leaflet every doorstep in the constituency of 119,000
voters. We visited on foot almost all 42 villages of the constituency,
which stretched over 70 kilometers.
also held 35 public meetings, attracting over 40,000 people. Both male
and female comrades addressed the meetings with the largest rally on 1st
May, when over 5,000 attended. May be this was a mistake to hold a large
rally on International Workers Day. Following the rally, the PMLN
candidate gave very special attention to this area of Suddar. He
distributed money to almost every home. Although we were expecting
nearly a thousand votes, and ended up with around 250.
launched finance appeal, both nationally and internationally and
received a good response, collecting over 400,000 Rupees for the
campaign. Many thanks to all those responded to this urgent appeal. This
was our third appeal within six months and every time we were able to
raise a considerable amount from the comrades and supporters inside and
Translating Enthusiasm into vote is difficult
held enthusiasm at our rallies and many in the homes we visited agreed
what we were saying. Almost, everyone said “Yes, we need honest
candidates.” “We are tired of the big parties and there is a lot of
corruption—everyone is a thief.” “Why are only rich able to contest the
elections?” “We need an alternative.” “The poor must win elections.” “We
do not trust the politicians; the PPP and PMLN are the same.” We had
fiery speeches and workers responded militantly. Many workers donated
cash and spent countless hours in our campaign. Some eight leading LPP
activists from other areas, including Sindh, came for ten days to help
in the effort.
other party was able to do mount door-to-door campaign and public
rallies. The other parties had a strategy of contacting the influential
people of a village and it was their task to ask people to vote. They
provided resources to these influential supporters and the state
announced several development schemes that favoured their candidates.
This was all in sheer violation of the code of conduct laid by the
Election Commission of Pakistan. We held two press conferences to demand
from EC to take action against those who are openly violating the rules;
it was met with deaf silence.
Casting a vote in a parliamentary election is a complex issue. What
compels a person’s decision at the ballot box where there is little
class struggle? In Pakistan’s present reactionary political climate,
there are sporadic revolutionary currents. However, the overall thinking
of the masses has become apolitical or outright reactionary. The Left is
weak and has little history of taking part in parliamentary politics in
comparison to India. The ideas of political Islam are seemingly in
When the Election Day came, it was the PPP and the PMLN who were able to
mobilize. Hundreds of cars, vans, buses and three wheelers festooned
with party flags and banners were everywhere. The two parties,
reinforced by the mainstream media, occupied all the political space.
Our leaflets, posters, banners, camps and polling agents were
Capitalist parties’ strategy
strategy of Pakistan Peoples Party was to attract voters through two
main issues: caste politics and development schemes. Rana Aftab Ahmad is
from the Rajput (Rana) caste. There are over 53,000 Rajputes in this
constituency. He has been elected three times from this constituency,
primarily because his caste is the largest voter block. During the
campaign, the PPP officials met with influential Rajputes and asked for
their support. The federal government, controlled by the PPP, announced
several development schemes for the area, including gas, roads and
sanitation system for several villages. The gas pipelines were spread,
roads dug and preparations begun on sanitation. This was all to show
that PPP is doing something and not just talking.
the past, PMLN candidates have also announced development schemes but
this time they opted for a more naked bribe. This time around, the PMLN
candidate distributed cash. He distributed Rupees 3,000 to 10,000 to
families in the area. Taking the money meant not only promising one’s
vote on the Quran but also turning over one’s identity card to the
agent, who will turn them in on Election Day. In today’s desperate
economy, this turned out to be the most successful campaign strategy.
strength is that we are expert in street politics. We are good at the
factory level as well. However, in the parliamentary field the LPP has
little experience. The last time the LPP contested was in the 2002
general elections. Over the past eight years, we have not had the
opportunity to take part in elections.
During this election campaign, once comrades saw a militant response
among voters during the rallies and street corner meetings, we worked
hard to develop these events. We forgot to do our homework with the
problem is that the election commission does not provide the lists to
all candidates, but they must be purchased for thousands of Rupees.
Without that list, we were unable to identify who were the registered
voters in the constituency. We campaigned blindly.
were severely hampered by not having and working on the voter lists.
Many workers, when they came to our stalls at the election polling
stations, could not find their vote. We had not organized to get the
workers’ vote registered earlier either, when there was time to get the
voters registered. There was no plan to contest elections from this
area. It was all by chance and no one expected that Ajmal Asif will
overall lack of resources was another weak point. We did not have proper
food, residence or transport for those who volunteered for the campaign.
We told our supporters: “You have to eat from your own pocket, bring
your own cycle or motor cycle, put in petrol from your pocket and
campaign for us.” Only during the last motor cycle rally were we able to
finance 100 Rupees petrol for each motor cycle. And they were over 350!
In comparison, the supporters of the capitalist parties, many renegades
from our working class, had their best rides on expensive vehicles, best
food of their lives and cash in return for their support.
None of us had the illusion that Mian Qayum could win the seat. We went
to an election we were expecting to loose. But we did it out of sheer
commitment to build an alternative. At present, we have a team of
comrade who can build from the base we did build for future elections.
We have formed new committees of workers, got new contacts for the trade
unions and LPP and many young workers who are ready to work with us in
future. It is not pleasant to lose and it is worse not to take part in
this election. It was also not good when we are disappointed nonetheless
after setting rather high hopes. We learned a lesson from our January
2010 Workers Peasant Conference in Faisalabad when we announced that
30,000 people would attend. Around 10,000 came so we were a bit
disappointed afterward. The Faisalabad election did not turn out as well
as we had hoped.
Nonetheless we learned a great deal. I’m thinking of Pendori, a village
where we had no activists before the elections. A bus driver heard we
had a worker as our candidate and came to our election office, asking us
to visit his village. He arranged a public meeting attended by more than
when I asked him on the election day at his village polling station,
how many votes should we expect from this village, he said a maximum of
25. I asked why only 25 if there was such a successful meeting. He told
me that people came to listen and liked very much what we had to say but
it is difficult to convince them to vote for us. We are the first
Late election night, I got a call from him. He told me that in Pendori
there were 185 votes cast for Mian Qayum. He confessed that he know it
would be more than 25 votes, but he did not want to disappoint me with
setting too high a figure. He reminded me that it is good to be modest
in our projections.
Interestingly enough, in the home union council of the PMLN candidate,
we came in second and pushed the PPP candidate to the third position.
But the PMLN candidate received only 56 more votes than Mian Qayum. On
his home ground, the PMLN candidate was unable to bury us and this is an
will make sure that we learn from our experiences. We have already
planned a follow up door-to-door campaign to thank those who voted for
us and those who didn’t vote for us this time. We have also called a
meeting of all the activists and supporters to review and discuss what
to do in future. It will be an informative day-long meeting.