Pakistan stands on the brink of transformative change. On Saturday, May 11 Pakistanis will finally vote in the much-awaited 2013 national elections, and never before has the Pakistani youth been so energized prior to an election. Never before has the domestic security situation in Pakistan been worse. Never before has the Pakistani media been this animated. Never before have Pakistanis been this politically charged and (arguably) this opposed to an incumbent government.
In many ways, the quicker the elections get here, the better it will be for everyone. The good, the bad and the ugly have all made appearances in the run-up.
The Good. Regardless of however fashionable it might be in Pakistani society to bash any official process sponsored by the government (more often than not for good reason), there have been many developments in this election cycle that have gained admiration from even the most cynical Pakistanis. For starters, a whole host of candidates, irrespective of their popularity, were barred from contesting because they misled the public with regard to their educational background (in what became known as "Fake Degree" scandals). Furthermore, transgender candidates like Bindiya Rana and Sanam Faqeer entered the political domain, claiming their rightful positions in society. Women such as Hajiani Lanjo and Badam Zari contested seats in areas where even men are afraid to defy traditional politics.
The Bad. It’s deplorable that despite all the praise the Election Commission of Pakistan has received, it still allowed 55 known and charged terrorists from contesting the elections. These individuals have all, at some stage or another, been linked to sectarian violence in the country. They have affiliations with numerous outlawed and highly questionable parties, including the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), now renamed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ); Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (Fazl); Jamiat Ahle Hadith (JAH); Harkatul Mujahideen (HuM); Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM); and the Sipah-e-Mohammad Pakistan (SMP). Whatever democratic precedent the ECP wishes to uphold by allowing such individuals to contest (on the grounds of "freedom of participation" etc.), there is no valid reason that can justify the inclusion of such violent and extremist elements is the election race.
The Ugly. Undoubtedly the most heinous and atrocious of all possible events in the run-up to the elections has been the reign of terror launched by the Tehrek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) against secular political parties. TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan announced the group's intention to target candidates and party workers affiliated with the ruling coalition's Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan People's Party (PPP), and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). Bomb blasts on a daily basis have targeted party workers, affiliates, and leaders of all three parties. “The most effective campaign is being run by the Taliban,” said Asad Munir, a retired army brigadier with the army’s Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence. “They are holding the state of Pakistan hostage.” It is to the credit of these targeted political parties that they have reaffirmed their dedication to democracy by stating that despite the turmoil elections must happen at all costs.
The two favorites to win the elections are the PTI, led by Imran Khan, and the PML-N, led by Nawaz Sharif. Both leaders have remained fairly muted with regard to condemning the TTP attacks in fear of incurring the TTP’s wrath on their own political outfits.
With the TTP cracking down hard and the interim government falling drastically short of providing adequate security, the quicker Pakistan makes its first-ever momentous democratic transition, the better it will be for the Pakistani people.