Movie makers, celebrities and cafe owners are appealing to Pakistanis to vote in the May 11 general election to help pull the nation out of a slump caused by chronic energy shortages, poor governance and terrorism.
Chambaili, a film that opened in cinemas on April 26, depicts a young population bullied by the ruling elite. Television spots feature 29 actors, singers and sportsmen urging people to cast ballots. Espresso, a local chain of coffeehouses, is offering a free coffee on election day to those bearing an ink-marked finger that shows they voted, and Ginsoy, a Chinese restaurant in Karachi, is advertising a 25 percent discount to voters.
The messages are aimed at Pakistan’s youth, many of whom will be voting for the first time. Over one-fourth of voters are under 35, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan, and 87 percent of young adults are unhappy with the current political system, a December survey by advertising agency JWT Pakistan found.
“People are frustrated and are looking for a change,” said Mohammad Jibran Nasir, a 26-year-old lawyer standing as an independent candidate in one of Karachi’s upscale neighborhoods. “I was tired of sitting in my house and watching our country go to ruins.”
Cricket star Imran Khan has used a social-media campaign -- he has over half a million Twitter followers -- and dozens of rallies in the past two weeks to seek support among the youth. Established politicians, including President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, still hold sway over an older vote bank, especially in rural areas that account for two-thirds of parliamentary seats.
Voter turnout in Pakistan was 44 percent in the 2008 elections and has only ever reached 60 percent -- more than four decades ago.
“Chambaili is patriotic and the audience was left more eager than ever to exercise its civic duty of voting,” said 26-year-old Zainab Imam, who plans to fly from Karachi to Lahore, where she’s registered, to cast her ballot. At one point in the movie, a middle-class family resists eviction from their home which a rich landholder wants to level to build a five-star hotel.
Among those calling on Pakistanis to turn out on May 11 in the television slots -- which private channels Geo and ARY ran free of charge -- was fast-bowler Wasim Akram, one of Pakistan’s most recognizable cricketers after Khan.
Security threats have forced major political forces, including Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, to rely on advertising as they avoid public rallies which have targeted by Taliban insurgents. Nationwide violence since April, including attacks on election candidates, has left at least 114 people dead and 470 injured.
The Peoples Party is projected to spend the most on advertising followed by Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf, according to Dialogue Pakistan, a media advisory company in Karachi.
The PPP’s campaign shows images of slain former leader Benazir Bhutto’s grave, while Khan’s party is running video clips of its leader, who attained hero status by leading Pakistan to victory in the 1992 cricket world cup, speaking from his hospital bed after suffering fractures in a fall during a campaign stop in Lahore on May 7.
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