Democratic transition

For the first time in six decades, we are witnessing a proper democratic transition take place in Pakistan. With a 60 percent voter turnout, Pakistan has elected a new government. The previous dispensation, despite being a weak coalition government, completed its tenure. General elections were held under a neutral caretaker setup and an independent Election Commission. By and large, these elections were free and fair except in a few constituencies where re-polling took place, votes were recounted and/or cases of rigging are being investigated. Most analysts had predicted a hung parliament but the electorate has given a clear mandate to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is all set to form governments in both Punjab and Islamabad.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is now mostly confined to Sindh and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Imran Khan’s promised ‘tsunami’ failed to deliver much, which surprised many analysts but not Iftikhar Ahmad, a journalist who has been covering elections in Pakistan since 1990 for Jang Group as head of its election cell. He was one of the few who made near-accurate predictions just 2 days before the elections:

“PML-N will win 120 seats or more, PPP will get 30-40 and PTI will get 25-30 seats.” For the liberals, these elections proved to be disappointing as the PML-N and the PTI, two rightwing parties, took centre stage. With the PML-N’s 125 seats in the National Assembly and independent candidates joining the fray, Mian Nawaz Sharif will soon become the prime minister for the third time. Many in Pakistan, including some of his detractors, consider Nawaz Sharif a statesman-like figure. He proved his democratic credentials by supporting the previous democratic dispensation, which earned him the title of ‘soft opposition’ from his critics. Whatever Sharif’s reasons — whether to save his party’s government in Punjab or having a shot at becoming the prime minister again — credit must be given where it is due.

Now that he will be in charge of running the affairs of the state, Sharif will have a huge task at hand: from reviving Pakistan’s economy to resolving the energy crisis, from maintaining peaceful relations with its neighbours to dealing with the Taliban and other jihadist groups, from addressing the issue of civil-military imbalance to completing his five-year tenure, there is no dearth of problems. Nawaz Sharif has called for peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban but we have seen how such ‘talks’ have fared in the past.

On the foreign policy front, Nawaz has made some right noises. Nobody doubts Sharif’s commitment to peace with India but in the absence of a confident interlocutor in New Delhi, it will be difficult for him to move forward till a new government comes to power next year. Sharif realises the importance and benefits of a strong economy. He is said to be impressed with the Turkish Model where an Islamist party has been in power for a long time and has successfully managed to challenge the authority of Turkey’s powerful military by delivering on the economic front. If Sharif is able to deliver on the economic front, he will be in a position to challenge the army’s hold on foreign and national security policies. A rightwing party in power may not be an ideal solution to Pakistan’s woes but a strong democratic government was certainly needed to usher in a new era of democracy.

(Originally published in Mid-Day)


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