Pakistanis have elected their new leadership. The change of guards in a truly democratic fashion has taken place. The elections saw one of the highest voter turnout in history -- estimated to be in the vicinity of 60 percent. It was also for the first time that there was no tangible evidence of intervention by the powerful military. Political parties were thus free to carry out their campaigns with no complaints of 'engineering' by the military establishment.
The results of these largely free and fair elections are surprising. Pakistan's People's Party, headed by the president Asif Ali Zardari and remaining in power for the last five years, has been all but wiped out in most places. The only exception being its home base in the rural areas of the Sindh province. Imran Khan, a celebrated sportsman and a charismatic leader, surprised many by his party's (PTI) wins in the troubled northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa -- and for clinching the key national assembly seat of the capital Islamabad. His party, however, failed to gain major victories elsewhere and has emerged as the third largest group in the parliament.
The unexpected winner of the elections is Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), which has clinched 124 seats -- a major victory but still short of the magical number of 137, which is required for the simple majority in the house of 272. To bridge the gap, it has gained the support of independents as Pakistani election laws allow for them to join any party within three days of the official notification of results. Religious parties have largely been rejected by the electorate except for the JUI-F, a group that enjoys ties with Taliban but is also known, ironically, for its unrelenting support to democracy -- by never boycotting the polls or maligning the process.
While the results are in, there has also been talk of rigging in some constituencies, especially in the largest metropolis of Karachi. MQM, a party known for its militant wings, has swept most of the seats from the port city. Others competing for the same have accused it of resorting to massive rigging, threatening the polling staff and stealing ballot boxes and barring voters from exercising their right. While MQM has rejected the accusations, numerous videos have surfaced of party workers stamping on its electoral sign -- a kite -- and threatening polling staff to stay silent. A sit-in continues at Karachi and Lahore by the PTI supporters who demand fresh elections in some constituencies. Their pleas, however, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears.
The PML(N) government faces daunting challenges of power crisis, unemployment, financial crisis and terrorism. Party head Nawaz Sharif is expected to become the prime minister of Pakistan for the third time (he served two brief stints in the 1990s). There are no term limits in Pakistan and many of the cabinet members are expected to be from his close family.
Like in India, democracy in Pakistan seems to be a family affair. President Zardari's sisters have also been elected members of the parliament as are some of his other relatives. He himself clings on to the presidency despite violating the constitution by also keeping the party post and holding meetings at his official residence (the constitution clearly states the president to be impartial and unaffiliated). Zardari is expected to create hurdles for the new government as Nawaz is his arch-rival. This will not bode well for democracy. It would be better if the president completes his term (which is ending in September) with grace and stop meddling in affairs that are not in his purview.
Still, the elections have prove to be a breath of fresh air for Pakistanis. Given the history of coups, Pakistanis need to be given the opportunity to elect their leaders democratically. Continued democratic process is the only way out of Pakistan, a country that is no longer capable of any experiments.
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