With just one day left until Pakistan’s much anticipated May 11 elections, the country is undoubtedly on the brink of major, ground-breaking change. The elections will be different from any other the country has had before – and it’s not just because Saturday’s elections will be Pakistan’s first peaceful transition of power from one civilian government to another. Rather, there is change coming into Pakistan from every facet in the country – from Imran Khan’s emergence into the political arena which threatens Pakistan’s status quo parties, to the youth and women, who have finally taken charge and participated in the election process in unprecedented numbers, to the Taliban (TTP) who has seemingly made it their sole mission to make this transition of power as difficult as possible for the ordinary Pakistani. All of these factors have made the upcoming election the most unpredictable one the country has seen yet.
Firstly, the most powerful and game-changing element Pakistan has seen most recently has been the emergence Imran Khan as a serious politician, as well as his party, Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI). For long, Pakistan has seen only two political parties dominate the political arena – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), also known as the Bhutto family’s dynasty, and the Sharif family’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). And for long, Pakistanis have complained about the two parties who have treated politics as a birthright, but voted for them anyway because there was simply no one else to challenge them. Until now, that is.
Cricketer-turned-Politician, Imran Khan, has been carefully nurturing and building his party for the past 17 years, but it wasn’t until late in 2011 that Khan really gained momentum. His rhetoric has appealed to the middle class, to the youth, to the liberals – to anyone who is exhausted and tired of the old political parties who have given them nothing despite having already been in power, but still have the audacity to further make false promises.
In comparison, Khan’s motto of a Naya Pakistan, "a new Pakistan," looks pretty good to all of them, and the waves (or tsunami, as he calls it) of change that he’s brought to Pakistan can even be seen in my grandparents who have never voted, having been disheartened by Pakistan’s politics, but will go out on Saturday morning to cast their vote for a politician they can finally believe in.
Secondly, the youth and women of Pakistan have also become a dynamic force in this year’s election. An estimated 25 million voters under the age of 30 are expected to be the ultimate decisive factors in tomorrow’s election and their enthusiasm has been seen everywhere lately – from their overwhelming presence at campaign rallies, to the streets of their cities, where many have been seen hoisting the flags and badges of their respective parties onto their cars and bikes.
Women have also stepped up to the plate this election season – most notably, the unimaginably courageous women from the tribal belt who are quite literally risking their lives to bring change to their respective regions. Both Badam Zari and Nusrat Begum, champions of women’s rights and education, are running independently and, irrespective of whether they are victorious in the election or not, have already made a difference just by stepping outside the confines of their homes and letting their voices be heard.
Finally, the Pakistani Taliban is also another factor contributing to the election’s unpredictable nature. During the 2008 election, the Taliban had observed a cease-fire, but this year, they are openly calling for attacks on polling sites in efforts to cripple voter turn-out, making it incredibly difficult and dangerous for Pakistanis to actively go out and vote.
According to Hakimullah Mehsud, TTP’s spokesman, “We don't accept the system of infidels which is called democracy.”
Still, many Pakistanis – especially the youth – are both anxious and excited to go out and cast their ballots, even in the midst of the Taliban’s threat.