'Truth tracker' keeps tabs on Pakistan election pledges
- 14 January 2014
- From the section Asia
As you turn off the main road just south of Pakistan's eastern city of Lahore, it soon seems as if you have travelled 50 years back in time.
At Sitara Colony Number Two, leaking sewage pipes and abandoned bulldozers belie Lahore's reputation as one of Pakistan's most developed cities.
The scene is also testament to political promises which have remained unfulfilled. But a new website seeks to put promises of development and progress to the test.
Sitara Colony number 2 is a labyrinth of narrow streets. bustling with small shops, street vendors and donkey carts.
Across from the market is the residential area.
Rough tracks and sewage spewing out from various points, mixed with stagnant water from a recent downpour await the visitor.
Huge bulldozers and other machinery lie idle nearby. Construction work is at a standstill.
Tariq Mehmood has lived in Sitara Colony for 10 years. He says that in every election campaign he can remember, politicians have promised to build roads and proper sewers here, but that the candidates never look back once elected.
"Look at the water in the street, it's been here for the past one and a half years. Even the drinking water is not clean any more," he says.
"During the election campaign we brought different candidates here - all of them promised to resolve the issue. But nothing happened afterwards. Now when we go to our MP, he gives us more false hope. They don't think we are humans, it's sad but true."
It's a frequent complaint in Pakistan, but it now seems that politicians here might have a harder time getting away with broken promises unnoticed.
A website called Truth Tracker has been launched by UPI Next, the non-profit media development arm of the United Press International news agency.
Its mission: To keep an eye on the commitments made by politicians during and after election campaigns.
A team of 25 reporters all over Pakistan scour manifestos, elections speeches, party websites and media appearances of politicians to nail down promises made to voters.
The senior editor of Truth Tracker, Mubasher Bukhari, says it is all about accountability:
"It means we keep tracking promises, and keep reminding politicians again and again about their commitments to the people. We also give reasons as to why any promise is not fulfilled and what the obstacles are."
The various parties' campaign symbols are used to identify who made what promise - the tiger for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N or a cricket bat for former cricket star Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (PTI).
There are five categories for the state of a promise: Broken, fulfilled, under way, not started and compromised.
For example, the website says that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised during last year's election campaign to provide housing to all low-income families, but nothing has been done so far to make progress on the issue. Truth tracker has categorised this promise as "not started".
During the same campaign Imran Khan's PTI promised to hold local government elections within 90 days of taking power.
According to Truth Tracker, Imran Khan repeatedly criticised previous governments for not holding local polls, accusing them of being reluctant to share power with the grassroots.
The website calculates that since PTI politicians took the oath of government in north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province on 30 May, the 90 day deadline was due to fall on 31 August. But with local government elections still pending, Truth Tracker rates this promise as "broken".
In another example, the chief minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif, promised to explore alternative energy options in an effort to end the power crisis that has plagued Pakistan.
The Punjab government has started a project to build a solar energy plant in the south-eastern desert of Cholistan. According to the Truth Tracker team, this promise is "under way".
Social analyst Rasul Bakhsh Rais believes that initiatives like Truth Tracker can strengthen accountability, which he says is essential for any democracy.
"In Pakistan politicians have different attitudes when they are in power. So citizens should not wait for five years to question them - it must be done on a continuous basis," he says.
"And now this can happen with the help of information technology, through tools like websites."
Others, however, say that in a semi-literate country like Pakistan, the number of people who will use websites like Truth Tracker to monitor the performance of elected politicians is likely to be limited - and powerful politicians will keep on getting away with broken promises.
In Sitara Colony, Tariq Mehmood is so frustrated, he has given up hope.
"Now local elections are coming up, but we are not interested," he says. "It doesn't matter because we know nothing is going to change."
But Mubasher Bukhari is hopeful Truth Tracker can make a difference.
"It's true many people are still not aware of it, but a lot of politicians are - they know that they are being watched."