​Pakistan's historic elections and quest for stability

By Sajjad Malik
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, July 24, 2018
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Islamabad, Pakistan [Photo/Xinhua]

Pakistan is set to hold parliamentary elections on July 25. This is a landmark occasion, as it will be the first time that the people have a chance to elect a third successive parliament after the previous two each completed five years under civilian rule.

Traditionally, the country has had a rough ride as far as popular democracy is concerned. Pakistan's powerful military ruled for nearly 40 years since the nation gained independence in 1947. The last ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, took over in 1999 by dismissing a civilian government and was forced to step down in 2008 when his supported politicians were defeated in elections.

The end of the Musharraf era heralded a democratic system of governance. The first-ever peaceful transition under a civilian government was completed in 2013 when a new government was voted in and Nawaz Sharif took over as the prime minister for a record third term.

Many analysts believe that at the time, civilians had finally gained a foothold on the shifty political landscape of Pakistan. But the euphoria was short-lived and a popular agitation by former cricketing hero-turned-politician Imran Khan had severe consequences for the elected government. 

Starting from August 14, 2014, Mr. Khan staged a sit-in for 126 days in the capital Islamabad against alleged rigging of the 2013 polls, which he said had brought Sharif to power. However, the allegations of systematic poll fraud were rejected by a judicial probe. 

The protest was later called off in the wake of the Peshawar school attack on December 16, 2014 in which about 150 people, mostly students, were killed. Mr. Sharif and his government could never fully push back against the onslaught of Mr. Khan. 

The 2018 elections were held against the backdrop of a highly divisive political struggle based on the release of the Panama Papers that claimed Sharif's sons had off-shore companies. Mr. Khan accused Sharif's family of ill-gotten money and after a lengthy legal battle, the Supreme Court disqualified Sharif on July 28, 2017.

Earlier this month, he was convicted and sent to jail for ten years after losing a case concerning properties in London which his accusers alleged he received in the 1990s while twice serving as prime minister.

Sharif has denied the allegations to this day and instead has tried to build a narrative that a powerful establishment and security agencies pulled the rug out from under him in his attempts to reset the foreign and security policies of the country. 

This year's elections feature several different parties, but the primary candidates are Khan and Sharif. 

Khan and his supporters believe Sharif deserved the treatment he was given by the courts. However, those who stand behind him believe he is innocent and was sent to jail for his independent policies aimed at building relations with its neighbors, including archrival India. 

Two concerns in the run up to the elections have dominated the political scene. First, the allegations of pre-poll rigging by supporters of Sharif and other political parties; and second, a renewed wave of attacks by militants at election rallies. Three candidates were killed in three separate suicide attacks in two weeks. More than 180 other people have also died as a result.   

Several political engagements were called off and some leaders have had to move more cautiously, but the attacks have generally failed to create widespread fear. Many people both in and out of Pakistan applaud the courage of the men and women who address public gatherings amidst the potential danger of being targeted by militants.

Despite this, the larger issue of political engineering ahead of the elections is quite serious. Although it might not have any impact on established democracies, such allegations in a country where democracy is still struggling to find its roots could have serious consequences.

The election campaign this year has also been very toxic and political barbs have badly polarized the country. The language of the candidates has been sharp and attacks on their opponents is vicious. There are political observers who consider these elections as the nastiest in the history of the country.

This year's campaign will not be regarded as a positive one, and could potentially come back to haunt candidates when they settle into negotiations if any single party fails to win the outright majority in the house of 342.   

Pakistan needs a strong government for political and economic stability. A weak government based on a hung parliament will be a disaster as it will waste time in bickering and fighting off attacks from a strong opposition. 

Sajjad Malik is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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