As election season came to an end in Pakistan this weekend, Prime minister hopeful and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML_N) Chairman Nawaz Sharif (PML-N) was declared the winner. Former cricket legend Imran Khan and his party the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) was unable to put up a noteworthy challenge on Sharif's grip in Punjab, Pakistan's largest province, but came out victorious as the biggest party in the Taliban-infested province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
The election process was marred from the start by severe acts of violence, incompetency and political uncertainty. The performance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the past 2 months was extremely unsatisfactory in its scrutiny of election candidates, heavily criticized by analysts and pundits alike. If that wasn't enough, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have been perpetuating violence against major political factions (mainly secular parties) in an effort to stop citizens from turning up at the polls.
Nonetheless, there was a large voter turnout, which was estimated to be over 60% of all registered voters. While the logistics of the process were not smooth, a democratic transition of power, the country's first, is a commendable feat in itself.
The ECP's handling of the electoral process as well as its scrutiny of electoral candidates was meager at best. Instead of dealing with issues of corruption, loan defaults and fraud, the ECP's bizarre line of questioning was to have candidates recite verses from the Quran, and questions regarding other aspects of their faith.
This is technically fair game since the controversial Article 62 and 63 in the constitution require that the candidate is "pious." This was a parting gift by former Pakistani president and military chief Zia-Ul-Haq in his hope to Islamize the country radically.
One candidate, Owais Mustafa, was asked, "how many times a day did a person have to pray in Islam?" He seemed to have been caught off guard by the questions and look visibly uncomfortable trying to explain the process of offering prayers. Another lawmaker was asked whether he had performed Hajj, one of the 5 pillars of Islam. He said that he didn't and was offered stern advice that he should do so as it is an obligation for every Muslim.
A more obscene and terrifying feature of these election campaigns was the relentless violence targeted towards political parties, whose campaigns have been hindered by suicide bombings, shooting and kidnappings. The TTP had declared to attack the candidates of secular parties such as the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP), who the Taliban cast as enemies of Islam and backers of the U.S.
In the past month, TTP linked attacks have killed nearly 100 political hopeful and have attacked elections rallies around the country. The election campaign of the ANP in Swabi, in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) was attacked a few days ago when 2 people were killed and several were injured. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), who has advocated a military operation against the TTP in Waziristan, has also been a target. On April 27, the Taliban carried out a bomb attack in an MQM stronghold, killing a handful of civilians as well as injuring others.
Violence on the day of the election was reported in various parts in the country. In Karachi, a bomb detonated killing 7 people and injuring several others. On Sunday, a bomb blast was heard in the troubled city of Quetta Baluchistan where over a dozen people were reported dead.
For the most part, the PML-N, the PTI and other religious parties were spared from this senseless violence. While, the PMLN and PTI were favorites to win the elections, the PML-N emerged as a clear winner, with over 40% of the elected parliamentary seats, with the Pakistan People's Party a distant second, and the PTI third, trailing the PPP by only a few seats.
In Punjab, the PML-N wave performed better than expected where they secured a whitewash at in Punjab at both the provincial and national levels, gaining securing more than 70% of all constituencies in Punjab. The PTI was expected to show a much better performance but was only able to get a handful of seats from in Punjab. In KP they performed much better, coming out as the leading party among religious nationalist parties who tend to dominate the politics in the province.
Sindh was no surprise where the PPP dominated in the urban centers while the MQM took Karachi despite controversy over one or two electorates, where votes will be casted again. Finally, in Baluchistan, the nationalists surged ahead, with other parties gaining one or two seats.
Since the 18 amendment was passed, which hands over most governing powers to the provinces, a dilemma may arise in trying to meat out a consensus on several national issues. As a different party will dominate each province, formulating national policy on areas such as the economy, education, the energy crisis and sectarian violence could prove to be a tough task.
In spite of all the failures of the ECP and the security forces, the turnout of voters was a good sign for helping solidify democracy in the country. It was estimated that nearly 60% of registered voters, decide to cast their vote in a historic election. Among them, many were first time voters — of whom a huge number of young people and women were present too. While accusation of rigging the ballot are making the rounds, the will to come out and vote has been impressive against many odds was deserves appreciation.
Democracy evolves over time. The Pakistani people have shown they are willing to support the system going forward and arguably ending the possibility of any further non-democratic interventions.