Idol Chatter

In Pakistan’s version of American Idol, singing well is not a requirement. But being a potential candidate for Prime Minister is.
“Enter the Prime Minister,” Pakistan’s first reality TV show of its kind, begins broadcasting this month. The show, a politicized variation of “American Idol,” aims to find the perfect candidate for the premiership in time for the elections scheduled for Jan. 8, 2008.
While this sounds like a joke, it’s actually a sign of the disenfranchised demanding their chance at government.

DAWN NEWS [the network airing the show] is mainly watched in urban centers, where English is spoken and understood by a relatively small section of the Pakistani population. The creators and hosts admit that this won’t be a forum to inaugurate populist platforms, but rather, a place for a policy debate to get going. Hundreds of applications have been vetted, and some who “weren’t educated enough about the issues” or didn’t have “command of the language” had to be left out.
[…]But it is also a genuine forum for political discussion for Pakistan’s newly politicized and increasingly vocal upper middle class – “a thinking minority” as Mr. Bhatti describes it – that is still on the fringes of political power but has become increasingly active in the streets this year, especially after the military attempted to crush the judiciary and choke independent media. They are the activist lawyers, students, academics, and journalists who have come out in hoards as the traditional political elites appear stumped by President Musharraf’s aggressive power play.
DAWN’s intervention in the Pakistani democratic system gives contestants, including eccentric businessmen, quirky activists, slick bankers, lawyers, and other working professionals, a free forum to explain to a panel of three judges – one especially hard-nosed – how they, as prime minister, could solve the country’s decades-old chronic failure to create a functional civilian government.
“It’s a reality TV-cum-game show for an educated audience,” explains Azhar Abbas, the news director at DAWN. “The point is really to have an insightful debate between top politicians but also civil society and people from the corporate sector about what kind of leadership Pakistanis expect and need now.”

The idea sounds like a parody, but in actual reality, this television show and its competition may be more serious and real than anything that is invented by Hollywood to fill the “reality TV” category. Should the American reality television machine (and the political system) be looking to Pakistan as a model for future series (and elections)? Would it be any less of a media circus than the current process for either?

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus