NPR

In Pakistan, Political Oratory Is Flourishing

Great political speech-making is dying out, thanks to the sound bite and the Tweet. But oratory's essential for anyone vying for votes in Pakistan.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's a rare political leader whose words rise to the level of passion and poetry. Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind. But there is a country where great political oratory is common and flourishing. NPR's Philip Reeves has this reporter's notebook from Pakistan.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: It's been a noisy year in Islamabad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TAHIR UL-QADRI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: For a while, every evening Pakistan's capital sounded like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

UL-QADRI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Politicians here, as elsewhere, fight their battles in TV studios and cyberspace, but street skills matter more now than ever. Qatrina Hussain is a leading TV anchor.

QATRINA HUSSAIN: I think the theatrical element of giving a political speech in Pakistan is integral to the success of any politician. And all of them are doing it.

REEVES: Two men are leading the way. Tahir ul-Qadri is an Islamic cleric campaigning for what he calls a peaceful revolution.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

UL-QADRI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: This summer, Qadri and his followers marched on Islamabad and set up camp. He was on the stump every night. So was former cricket star, Imran Khan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

IMRAN KHAN: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: Khan led thousands of his party supporters to Islamabad on the same day as Qadri to call on the government to resign over election-rigging. On Sunday, he's due back. The authorities are preparing by blocking off the center with shipping containers and flooding the streets with police. There'll be more speeches. A good political speech in Pakistan traditionally requires certain ingredients, including chanting, Urdu poetry and some evocative cultural references. Ammara Durrani is a political analyst.

AMMARA DURRANI: Oratory has been a hallmark of Pakistani politics historically. And we have produced some brilliant orators in Pakistan's history.

REEVES: Durrani's talking about this man.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRIME MINISTER ZULFIKAR ALI BHUTTO: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ATTENDANTS: (Chanting in foreign language).

Z. BHUTTO: (Foreign language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED ATTENDANTS: (Chanting in foreign language).

REEVES: Pakistan's Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hanged in the '70s by the military dictator, Zia ul-Haq. She's also talking about his daughter, Benazir. Benazir made powerful use of words.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BENAZIR BHUTTO: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: After her assassination in 2007, Benazir's son, Bilawal, took charge of her party - The Pakistan People's Party - now in opposition. Last month, Bilawal set out in the footsteps of his mother and grandfather and made his big debut as an orator.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BILAWAL ZARDARI: (Foreign language spoken).

REEVES: He was on his feet for nearly two hours. Ammara Durrani saw his mother in him.

DURRANI: The tilt of the neck, the straight shoulders and a composure which you don't see in other politicians and a deliberate attempt to be regal also.

REEVES: Bilawal's performance was confident and passionate, though, like his mother, he sometimes struggled with his Urdu language.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ZARDARI: (Speaking Urdu).

REEVES: In this nation of orators, this wasn't a bad start, says Qatrina Hussain.

HUSSAIN: He's young. He's 26 years old. I think The Pakistan People's Party will be proud of what he's been able to pull off in that first event.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

ZARDARI: (Speaking Urdu).

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Islamabad. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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