Photo via FurSid
After decades of strife, the citizens of Pakistan can point to May 11, 2013, as the first civilian transfer of power through general elections following the successful completion of a term by a democratically elected government. Nawaz Sharif’s heavily criticized party, the Pakistan Muslim League, was victorious in what was a highly contentious election, even in the context of this volatile region. Sharif has already served as Prime Minister of Pakistan twice: from 1990 to 1993 and then from 1997 to 1999. At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss these results as a rubber stamp of the status quo, a bandage on a festering wound of political unrest. When you look closer at the socio-political situation here in Pakistan, however, it becomes clear that just being able to transition governmental authority without military involvement is a victory.
It's not as if everything went perfectly. Prior to the election, Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud wrote a letter that defiantly stated that the aim of their organization was to destroy the entire democratic system in Pakistan. Threats of violence against polling stations were common. Mismanagement of the process by the election commission led to interminable lines for those who exercised their franchise. Ballot rigging was witnessed at many voting sites. Incidents of women being barred from voting occurred in a smattering of cities. Yet despite all this, 47 percent of the population chose to ignore the danger and cast ballots, and violence was kept to a minimum in a nation where political unrest is all too familiar.
Pakistan’s history of chaotic transitions is well documented. From 1999 to 2008, General Pervez Musharraf ruled the country through a harsh military dictatorship. His siege of Lal Masjid mosque in Islamabad in July 2007, an attempt to pacify the growing Islamic fundamentalist movement in Pakistan, and the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto in December 2007 only increased pressure on the military regime and contributed to the fall of Musharraf’s government.
Despite the progress made in this election cycle, Pakistan was not without its struggles, which isn't surprising for a nation weaned on war. At least 121 people were killed and more than 496 were injured in the month before elections. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and Awami National Party (ANP) were all put on notice by Taliban forces prior to the start of voting for their left-leaning platforms. Their corner meetings were targeted, and their candidates killed in suicide attacks. Sadiq Zaman Khattak, a National Assembly candidate from ANP, was killed with his son outside a mosque on Friday and elections were postponed in that constituency.
After the results were announced, the various political entities immediately started assigning blame for any electoral inconsistencies. In one constituency, a protest was organized by the PPP against the MQM against threats from the latter's leader, Altaf Hussain. In Karachi's NA-250 constituency, Zahra Shahid Hussain, the Vice President of PTI’s Sindh Chapter, was killed late on Saturday in an attempted robbery. PTI chairman Imran Khan blamed MQM and Altaf Hussain for her murder because of threatening remarks made after the protest. On Sunday, PTI won the national assembly seat from NA-250 after a re-vote. It is not clear if the fighting lead to an increased mobilization of PTI supporters, but it is yet another example of political rivalry spiraling out of control in the country.
Hopefully all of this is just part of the country's transformation into a place where power is tranferred through nonviolent, democratic means. As tensions rise throughout the region, Pakistan can rise to the occasion and present a model for nearby countries. Egypt’s revolution remains fiercely tenuous, Syria descends further into chaos every day, and Afghanistan’s government barely controls its countryside. If elections can be held here, they can be held anywhere.
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