Pakistan witnessed the bloodiest elections in its history on Saturday, as widespread violence and bomb blasts left dozens of people, including candidates, dead and wounded.
Most of the violence hit the largest city and only port, Karachi, where voting was suspended for almost an entire day in many constituencies after gunmen snatched vote papers and ballot boxes from the polling staff. They also shot dead and abducted candidates. Smaller parties opposed to the party known as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), who were controlling major cities in the south for the last three decades, were forced to boycott the polls as army and police failed at recovering the candidates and the vote books.
Despite the violence, the polls saw a record voter turnout, which is likely to climb over 50 per cent for the first time in last 25 years, thanks to the addition of 35 million new votes after parliament lowered the minimum age to 18 from 21. The polls are deemed to be an important milestone in country’s cherished goal towards a better democracy.
It were the first elections in four decades that were contested without the traditional division on the basis of right wing and left wing politics, as the new transition is being drawn on the lines of changing the corrupt to bring the honest.
For Pakistanis, a pleasant change is visible. The chief architect of this change is the cricketer-turned-philanthropist-turned-politician, Imran Khan. But due to an unfortunate accident, he is hurt, retired and receiving treatment in a memorial hospital named after his mother. Three days before polling, he fell from a 15 foot platform on which he was being lifted to address a rally in Lahore. He suffered minor fractures in his spine and ribs while acquiring two gashes on the head.
With this election, Imran also broke a myth that the major chunk of street power in Pakistan had always been enjoyed by the Islamist parties. Now a larger chunk of country’s youth, especially those in urban areas, are marching behind Imran Khan like the legendary pied piper of Hamelin. Indeed, Imran emerged like the pied piper of Hamelin, the famous European folklore character, who vanished with all the children but one of the entire kingdom, to punish the cruel and liar king of a German city who went back on his promise.
Like the pied piper, Imran punished the corrupt and liars, the PPP-led ruling coalition, which gave unprecedented sufferings to the Pakistanis for the last five years in shape of record power load shedding, corruption, lawlessness and a price hike. Other coalition partners included ANP, PML-Q [former allies of detained Pervez Musharraf] and MQM, all of which were almost reduced to a marginal place in the national assembly in the initial unofficial results declared late Saturday night.
The emerging change saw ANP, country’s only party with communist history mostly concentrated in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was almost wiped out from his home-ground. PPP was almost swept away from the biggest province, Punjab. The center stage is now occupied by PML-N and PTI.
The unofficial figures put PML-N as the largest party likely to win 120 seats, PTI win 38, PPP 35, and MQM 22. In his ‘victory speech’, the prospective prime minister, PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif, sounded positive as he invited all political players to join hands to serve the country. Indeed, new government has to be a coalition since no party gained a clear majority. Nawaz has to tackle the two biggest challenges of imminent insolvency and insecurity facing the country. To counter these, he has to take all stake holders on board.
Besides, the new government will have to fill up three top posts of the country which are falling vacant this year, including the president, Chief of Army Staff and the chief Justice. It is to be seen how the new coalition partners replace the three top outgoing officials of the country within a span of few months.
Media, specially the TV channels and social media, were other star performers in the epoch elections. The vibrant media educated and motivated the people to cast their votes. In the past, people refrained from voting because same people and same families always reached to the parliament, as the corrupt and flawed electoral system absolutely blocked the path of the poor and middle class people to contest and win polls.
However, the Election Commission and National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the army run institution responsible for issuing national identity cards, passports and vet voters rolls, failed to live up to the masses expectations. Scores of people were unable to cast their votes due to glaring mistakes and anomalies in voters’ lists and allocation of votes among polling stations.
Another welcoming aspect of the polls was that they finally took place, despite all the concerns that spiraling lawlessness and violence threatened to postpone them until the last moment. The persistence on the part of Election Commission, the caretaker governments and the armed forces to make them happen despite all odds is commendable. They persevered to keep pushing the country towards the path to democracy to ensure better and brighter future for coming generations, and to enable them rid the menace of terrorism and threats of Talibanization.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based at Islamabad. He can be reached through Twitter: @mansoorjafar