Kiran Omar


The recently concluded general elections in Pakistan were a landmark in several respects; they marked, the first time in the tumultuous 66 years of Pakistan’s existence, a civilian transfer of power from a democratically elected government completing its mandated five -year term. They marked a robust voter turnout, above 55% of the total registered voters, and a surge in first time and young voters. Most importantly, these elections will be long remembered for bringing to fore a third political force in the hitherto two-party paradigm.


The political landscape in Pakistan has largely been dominated by the Pakistan’s People’s Party created by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and the Pakistan Muslim League – N headed by Nawaz Sharif. The political landscape is also sprinkled by lesser parties and breakaway factions of the two main parties. A third political party, Pakistan Therik-e Insaaf ( Movement for Justice ) created by cricketing star Imran Khan, came into existence in 1996 and had hitherto been largely in the political wasteland, with Khan winning a single seat in the 2002 general elections. The party is the first political party that is not based on dynastic politics and began life as a sociopolitical movement. It has risen from obscurity to become the third largest party after the 2013 elections.


In its short and chequered political history, the Pakistani voter has for the first time, another option, and sees the country slowly moving away from the typical, traditional family-based political parties that rely heavily on family and clan connections and support. The PTI roots itself in largely an urban-based, young, educated middle class that is chafing at the bit for a break with feudal and clan based politics. Although complete electoral victory eluded Khan and the PTI, it has made huge gains in garnering seats in both the National and Provincial Assemblies, and won a majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province where it will form the government.


This new scenario post 2013 elections brings many important and interesting aspects to light. It introduces another player on the political field. The elections were largely peaceful, barring some incidents of violence and disorder, voter turnout was healthy, proving that the people are determined  to exercise their civic right and are demanding change. It also clarified that the problems of the rural poor must be addressed and dealt with, along with the all important and pressing issue of growing militancy and terrorism. The latter has been left rather vague by both the PML-N and the PTI.


The PTI to its credit, was able to mobilize voters, especially young, first-time voters and the urban middle class who hitherto had a jaded and cynical view of politics and politicians. However this alone is not enough, and PTI has yet to prove itself as a party that espouses good governance for all Pakistanis – both urban and rural. It has to prove itself as a party to be taken seriously, and the formation of a government in KP will be a test run for future elections. Pakistanis voted in the PML-N headed by Nawaz Sharif who will be the next Prime Minister. They voted for a known and recognized entity in uncertain times, unwilling to embark on a journey with an untried new comer – the PTI.  It however throws up a fresh new challenge for the PTI to evolve a viable and workable platform and present a solid manifesto that voters can trust. Once it has established itself as a responsible, credible party that delivers, the next elections in 2018, will give some interesting results.


The thorough trouncing of Bhutto’s PPP, led by the widower of the late Benazir Bhutto, gave a clear and unequivocal message: the Pakistani public rejected en masse the poor governance of the PPP during its 5 year-term in power. Mounting energy and economic crisis had then shunning the PP which has been considered secular and pro-poor, for more conservative parties like the PML-N and the PTI. These elections have demonstrated the growing political maturity of the populace and their ability and willingness to support democratic institutions without the eternal crutch of army interference as has been the case in the past. The army very wisely stayed out of the political landscape and allowed the people to decide the direction of the country through the ballot.


It is now to be seen if Nawaz Sharif, already twice elected as Prime Minister, will show the political maturity and wisdom to steer the rocky ship out of the stormy waters of economic meltdown and rising terrorism, and restore the country’s confidence. He has a herculean task ahead and the next few months, with the energy crisis at its worst, with decide if the confidence reposed in him and his party was justified. He has to tackle this crisis on a war footing along with pulling the country out of the economic quagmire it finds itself. He has to bring feuding factions to the table to address security issues that is underpinning much of the economic malaise, and somehow deal decisively with the widespread scourge of Islamic militant forces in the country. Not a small task indeed. He has, in addition to restore some balance to the skewed political and economic power distribution that plagues the country. Punjab is the largest and most populated province and thus grabs a majority of the economic and resource allocation. There is a pressing and urgent need to restore some semblance of power and resource balance to the other provinces and to reduce mounting feelings of dis-empowerment and marginalization that in turn fuels militancy.


The elections mark a new beginning of political consciousness and awareness of the need for change. They helped propel the country out of a state of apathy and cynicism and sets the course for greater political engagement and hopefully enhanced accountability and a move towards good governance. With its many flaws, the country and public must be congratulated in pulling off an election that sets the country on a course towards  meaningful democracy.

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