Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Political choices of the web-savvy in Pakistan

I present below a picture of political interest of the web-enabled Pakistanis. The graph presents an index of Google searches ran from computers in Pakistan. The legend presents the colours associated with each search. For instance, Nawaz Sharif is green and General Musharraf is light blue on the graph.

The graph is generated afresh every time you watch it so the data are never dated. You can also move your mouse on the graph to see results for a particular date on the graph. The Y-axis represents the normalized index of Google searches that varies between 0 (least popular) and 100 (most popular).

Political choices for the Pakistani electorate are poor. The current set of political alternatives comprise former dictators, widowers, well-meaning disenfranchised leaders, and the Lahore-based power brokers.

From the graph one can see that General Musharraf is on his way out. Since August 2008, he is subject of a declining number of Google searches ran from computers operated in Pakistan. Prime minister Gilani is at the bottom of the graph, which suggests that he has not been been successful in engaging the web surfers in Pakistan. President Zardari enjoyed a spike in September 2008. However, his popularity graph is on the fall as well.

Another comparison I would like to make is between the current chief of army staff, General Kiyani, and the prime minister Gilani. It turns out that the siting prime minister is no more popular in web searches then the chief of the army staff.  This does not bode well for the prime minister.  On a positive note, the two leading politicians have been able to put some distance between their popularity and that of General Kiyani since September 2008.

The only rising star among the web-savvy Pakistanis is the Punjab based politician, and the former two time prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif. An increasing number of Google searches were focused on Mr. Sharif.  In fact, since 2004, Mr. Sharif has been the most popular for web searches in Pakistan of the four politicians listed above.

The popular belief in Pakistan is that Mr. Sharif’s resistance to General Musharraf, his support for the restoration of free judiciary, and his opposition to the American policies in south and West Asia has been instrumental in making him popular with the general populace as well as the web enabled Pakistanis above.

Lastly, this fall has been tough on Pakistani politicians. The graph above depicts a steep decline in October 2009, a month that has already witnessed tremendous carnage across the country.

Political memories are short.  The electorate quickly forgets personalities that are no longer in presence physically or on the ballot.  Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who died in a bomb blast in December 2007, was subject to a large number of searches at the time of her death.  However, by April 2008, fewer searches were focused on her than on her widower, Mr. Zardari. 

The sad lesson from the graph presented below is that politics is the arena (akhara in Punjabi) of living in Pakistan. Former and deceased politicians have seldom done well in Pakistan.  Also note that before her death in December 2007, she was no more popular than the rest of the political crowd.


A caveat before I sign off: one should note that while these graphs present an interesting picture of political popularity, these graphs present the interest of the web enabled based in Pakistan who constitute only a minority of the total population in Pakistan where most are still struggling for potable water, proper sanitation, and the Internet continues to be a luxury item.

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