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March 3rd, 2009
Pakistan at the Polls
Filmmaker Notes: Abigail Spindel

Filmmaker Abigail Spindel directed and produced the FOCAL POINT episode Vote for Benazir’s Blood.

I initially planned to cover the election from the perspective of two or more female candidates for the same seat, but after consulting Nighat Saeed Khan, a leading Pakistani activist and friend of Abida Hussain, I jumped at the opportunity to follow Hussain on election day.

Hussain is something of a legend, a colorful personality in Pakistan’s colorful political world. She has run for parliament as a candidate for different parties at different times in her career, as has her opponent and cousin, Faisal Hayat. She is from a political family; her husband ran for this seat in the past, as did one of her daughters. She was also one of the first women to run for parliament from central Punjab. Hussain, in her first election, defeated a radical Islamist, which to me makes her an interesting person in the current political environment in Pakistan.

There was another reason I decided to follow Hussain. She is an elected and an active politician, unlike many female politicians who are appointed, as per former President Pervez Musharraf’s policy stipulating that each party fill a certain percentage of its seats in parliament with women. Many of these appointed female legislators are just figureheads, wives of other legislators with little stature in parliament. Once, during Musharraf’s rule, the parliamentary chamber had to be vacated during an important vote for a veiled woman parliamentarian to cast her ballot because her husband, also a parliamentarian, insisted.

Hussain is a landowner contesting a rural seat, so this was an opportunity to assess the feudal culture of Pakistan. I tried to show the complex loyalty of tenant to landowner or landowner-politician. To a degree it also shows how elections are manipulated, and how election day can be a ruthless business. Polling stations are forcibly closed for a period of time, tempers run high, fights happen. Through it all, the dependents of each side — the employees and tenants of the candidate — campaign hard for their sides. They have a lot to gain and lose if the election is won or lost.

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