Pakistan may not be the world’s largest democracy, but is certainly the world’s bravest. Over 50 million voters braved heat, violence, and terrorism to cast their votes and wrote a new chapter in the history of democracy.
The al Qaeda franchise in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had vowed to target anyone who would participate in the electoral process in Pakistan. Numerous attacks and suicide bombings by the TTP targeted liberal-minded candidates resulting in the pre-poll deaths of over 100 individuals. Despite these overt threats to their security and mercury rising over 35 degrees Celsius, Pakistani voters showed courage and resilience and cast almost 100 million votes (for provincial and National Assemblies) against the al Qaeda’s murderous ideology.
The world owes its gratitude to the people of Pakistan who, despite losing over 40,000 lives in the imposed war on terror, continued to fight against religious orthodoxy and violent fanaticism. The results of May 11 elections prove once again that if given the opportunity, Pakistani masses would embrace democracy against the religious orthodoxy.
While the polling closed on May 11, the massive exercise in adult franchise slipped into May 12 where officials carried on with vote tabulations and verifications. With over 86.189 million registered voters, 5000 candidates competing for the 342 seats of National Assembly, 11,692 candidates vying for the 728 Provincial Assembly seats, and over 600,000 army and security personnel deployed, elections in Pakistan are one of the largest exercises in democracy in scale and scope. Despite the violence that claimed almost 130 lives during electioneering, and the threats for even more terrorist violence abound, Pakistanis came out in droves to be a part of the democratic process.
Pakistanis rejected those who supported drones
While the early results reveal some fissures along regional and provincial lines where no one party has emerged victorious from all parts of Pakistan, the electorate appears united in its disdain for those politicians who covertly or overtly supported the American drone strikes on Pakistani soil. The Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who are believed to support the American drone strikes, were routed by the electorate. Whereas the two political parties that opposed the American drone strikes on Pakistani soil, i.e., Pakistan Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan, emerged as the obvious victors in the May 11 elections.
It was only a few months earlier that Washington-based American academics in a paper tried to make the case for soft support for drone strikes in Pakistan. Professor Christine Fair and her two co-authors argued that 40 per cent of those Pakistani who were aware of the drone strikes supported them. I questioned the flaws in their reasoning and arithmetic because it painted a false picture of a non-existing support for drone strikes in Pakistan, which an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis considered a violation of their sovereignty.
Writing for The Atlantic.com , the same authors in January 2013 insinuated that I had “no personal knowledge of the tribal areas and the political situation that prevails there”. They mocked at my assertion that "if there is a consensus in Pakistan on any one matter, it is the unanimous opposition to the American drone strikes on Pakistan’s territory." The elections on May 11 without doubt prove that there is no support or future for the American drone strikes on Pakistani soil. Those political parties that supported the drone strikes against the wishes of the electorate have been pushed into oblivion.
Government of national consensus
The American drone strikes on Pakistani soil are not the only challenge that the next government in the centre and others in the provinces will have to face. The faltering economy, a near complete breakdown of the infrastructure characterised by power outages and fuel shortages, unemployment, terrorist violence, and civil wars in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan are some of the challenges that have to be confronted by the new governments. The Parliament in Islamabad cannot address these challenges without embracing all important opinions and voices that have been supported by the masses in the May 11 elections. A government of national consensus is the need of the hour.
A quick look at the results reveals that Pakistanis have shown faith in the leadership of two individuals, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. A government of national consensus should respect the electorate’s wishes and provide for a workable solution where the two most favoured leaders are able to lead Pakistan. Given that the Nawaz League and PTI agree on most elements of foreign policy, and they share the same inspirations for corruption-free and efficient governance while adhering to the supremacy of courts, Mr. Khan and Mr. Sharif may be closer in their political outlooks than what many observers believe.
With Nawaz League in the lead in the National Assembly, it appears that the two-time former Prime Minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif, will return for a third term. This still leaves the door open for Mr. Khan to be elected as the President of Pakistan later. It is highly unlikely that the current President, Asif Ali Zardari, will be able to function effectively, especially after his party has been shown the door by the electorate. This provides for the opportunity to have Mr. Khan restore credibility to the office of the president, which has suffered under Mr. Zardari’s tenure.
Challenges for the new government
While the new government may be tempted to promise the world to the starved masses, it will be wise not to give in to the temptation. Thus promising jobs for everyone in months, the end to corruption in 90 days, and a quick end to the load shedding are the kind of promises that no government will be able to fulfil in a jiffy.
A key challenge for the new government therefore will be to manage expectations of the electorate. Despite the assertion by some economists that the rate of economic growth could be doubled in Pakistan if the government were to follow their advice, it will be wise not to hope for economic miracles. The path to economic recovery will be circuitous and painful where things may get even worse before they will get better. The government should be bold and honest enough to communicate this reality to the masses.
The restoration and maintenance of law and order should be one of the top three priorities of the new government. Pakistan is imploding under sectarian and other religion-inspired violence. Those who have taken up arms against the State and have targeted innocent civilians should be dealt with full resolve. The new government has the explicit support of millions of voters and their families. It should act swiftly and decisively to eliminate the seed of terrorism from Pakistan’s soil.
By casting their vote in the May 11 elections, the 50-plus million Pakistanis have again become a stakeholder in the future of their homeland. While Pakistanis have elected their leaders on May 11, they should remember that great nations are made not just by great leaders but by great followers, who resiliently pursue their ideals for a prosperous and just society.
Election Mubarak and Pakistan Zindabad!
Murtaza Haider is a Toronto-based academic and the director of Regionomics.com.
He tweets @regionomics
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.