WASHINGTON: A faltering economy, an acute energy shortage and widespread militant violence will be the main issues in the forthcoming elections in Pakistan, say the US media.
And, like the media in the United States, other international news outlets also noticed that the country reached an important milestone when the Pakistan Peoples Party-led government completed its full term on Sunday.
“The action was a first in a country where the powerful military has regularly ousted civilian governments, either directly through coups or indirectly through constitutional manoeuvres,” noted The New York Times. “It offered hope that the parliamentary system was maturing.”
The Financial Times pointed out that Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Pervez Kayani “has vowed to keep the military out of politics.”
The Washington Post published a news agency dispatch from Islamabad, warning that President Asif Ali Zardari’s “unpopularity and anger over the performance of the government during its five-year term could damage the party’s run in the upcoming election.”
FT predicted that Pakistan may soon have to again turn to the International Monetary Fund to keep the economy afloat and avert a balance of payments crisis.
“The Asian Development Bank, one of Pakistan’s biggest lenders, estimates the government may need up to $9bn from the IMF,” the newspaper reported.
The New York Times (NYT) noted that a faltering economy and widespread militant violence had “left many Pakistanis grumbling about the lack of tangible dividends from democracy.”
The governing Pakistan People’s Party, whose performance has been widely criticized, will face a strong challenge from the opposition leader, the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, it added.
The Post noted that the PPP had an alternative, Bilawal Zardari, but “it remains to be seen how well the Oxford-educated youth can rally the party’s largely poor, rural constituency in Sindh.”
The newspaper included Imran Khan among the politicians who will have a major role in the forthcoming elections but said that it was not clear how effective he could be.
“Analysts doubt his party can win enough seats to form the next government, but it could steal key votes away from the PML-N and the PPP, especially in Punjab, and that could affect who wins,” the Post added.
NYT noted that Imran Khan “hopes to eat into Mr Sharif’s support base in Punjab,” which accounts for over half of the 272 elected seats in Parliament.
The newspaper noted that the cricketer turned politician, has campaigned heavily against corruption and in opposition to American drone strikes.
The BBC quoted its experts as saying that the most critical elections in Pakistan’s history were taking place amid an orgy of killings.
“With the number of targeted assassinations of leading politicians expected to increase by the time of the elections in the second week of May, there are no signs that the government or the army are prepared for a deterioration of security,” it warned.
NYT said that a peaceful transfer of power to a new government “would be a political victory of sorts for President Zardari, who has confounded regular predictions of the demise of his government over the past five years.”
The Christian Science Monitor said President Zardari has shown “a remarkable ability to hold together a warring coalition government whose members threaten to quit every few months or so.”
The president also managed “a balance between the need for US assistance amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries and rising anti-American sentiment,” it added.
Christine Fair, a professor at Georgetown University’s Security Studies Programme, told the Wall Street Journal that if the democratic process continued, it would strengthen politicians and weaken the army’s control over political institutions.
“We’re all vested in this election going off freely, fairly and maximizing voter turnout, so whatever government emerges is going to be maximally legitimate. And that's exactly the thing that the army fears,” she said.
The Christian Science Monitor noted that the PPP-led government has tried to help rural communities by boosting the price of certain agricultural commodities, although that has contributed to price hikes in urban areas.
Several major US news outlets noted that the former military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has vowed to return from exile on March 24 to contest the election, even though he faces criminal prosecution in court cases related to his rule between 1999 and 2008.
They also noted that although Allama Tahir ul Qadri has vowed not to contest the elections, he says he will help ensure ‘the integrity’ of the election.