Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pakistan: What the Pakistani elections meant

What Pakistan Elections Mean Mike Hitchen Online
by Mubashir Akram

Islamabad – For the first time, Pakistan’s civilian government has successfully completed its five-year term. Nawaz Sharif, a Prime Ministerial candidate of the widely popular Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party, is expected to become the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. Both the completion of a ruling government’s full term and these successful elections are important events for Pakistan, which has been under martial law for nearly 40 of its 66 years of independence.

Given the checkered history of democracy in Pakistan, in the lead-up to the elections there was mammoth scepticism around whether they would in fact take place. The period leading up to the elections was marked with a deterioration in law and order as a couple candidates were shot and killed.

But the President, the Election Commission of Pakistan and the Supreme Court categorically stated that the elections would be held on time. Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftkhar Muhammad Chaudhry said on 14 January, “It is not important who is doing what but elections will be held on time no matter what.”

And the elections took place as announced.

Despite the violent threats made by the Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other groups trying to intimidate people so they would stay away from the polls, Pakistanis showed they were not easily scared. Though there were threats, not to mention the rather uncomfortably hot weather on 11 May, high levels of voter turn-out showed that Pakistanis were eager to exercise their political power through their right to vote, in hopes of transforming Pakistan’s future.

On 6 May, on a popular news show on Pakistan’s Dawn News channel, Asma Shirazi, Pakistan’s leading female TV anchor, said that citizens were attending political rallies across Pakistan despite the high occurrence of attacks across the country related to the elections.

Hamid Mir, a senior political journalist with a highly watched political talk show called Capital Talk, echoed Shirazi’s sentiments. He visited Larkana, in Sindh province, the stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and asked people if they were scared of going to the ballots because of the threats. All of those interviewed said “no”.

Given the importance of the city, the home constituency of the PPP’s founder and former Prime Minster, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his daughter Benazir Bhutto, the government deployed Army Rangers at most of the entry points into the city. Mir interviewed a few people about this on his program: “We know, but we are not afraid,” a lead campaigner of the PPP said.

His sentiment was quickly endorsed by those standing around him. “If these terrorists have their designs to cause destruction, we have our right to come out and prove them wrong,” said another campaigner from the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional, a Sindh province based centrist party.

Pakistanis reeling under power outages, deteriorating law and order, terrorism and a poor economy have waited patiently for these elections to move forward with a national agenda of democracy and development. In addition to addressing Pakistan’s economic challenges, this agenda is expected to focus on restoring peace and stability in places like Pakistan’s northern province, and law and order in places like Karachi.

Many believe that the outgoing PPP party was not able to build a strong consensus and unified national strategy to counter terrorism in Pakistan.

Dissatisfaction with this was evident in the agreement by political parties this year to create “a united national strategy” to address the issue of terrorist violence that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since 2001.

Other key issues in this election were energy and the general situation of law and order, but the test of the new assembly will be whether they are able to unite the nation and its political leadership around a strategy to counter violence and terrorism post-election.

In the meantime the long queues of voters on 11 May sent a strong message – despite threats of violence, the Pakistani people will come out in support of democracy, time and time again.


* Mubashir Akram is a communication specialist, and the Director of PINFO Communication & Research, Islamabad ( He tweets at @mubashirakram. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 May 2013,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.