Pakistan goes to the polls today for only its second free and fair election. In the grand Pakistani tradition, polling and analysis has been poor and contradictory and the make-up of the Federal Government remains very much in question. By tomorrow evening the final results for the National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies will be in but in the meantime some predictions can be made. First though, a quick primer on the three major political parties contesting the elections.
- The perceived front runner is the once and likely future Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Sharif has strong support in the largest province, Punjab, where his brother is sure to be re-elected as Chief Minister. Sharif has also worked to build alliances in the other three provinces. Sharif is a conservative, who was an ardent follower, of that smiling wolf General Zia ul-Haq whose cruel regime was the author of most of the ills that are destroying Pakistan. Sharif later turned against the military and was overthrown by his handpicked Army Chief, Pervez Musharraf, in 1999.
- Former Cricket star Imran Khan has mounted a serious challenge to the status-quo with his PTI party fighting Sharif for the right wing vote. Few expect Khan to become Prime Minister but he might win enough seats to prevent Sharif from forming a stable government or allow the former PPP government to return to power in a weak coalition government. Khan has inspired the huge youth population of Pakistan to participate in the elections. He has also made sweeping promises about ending corruption and load-shedding (rolling blackouts) within 90 days; promises that will simply be impossible to keep. Khan also wants to halt military action against the Taliban and their militant allies as Khan believes they can be convinced to lay down their arms. Should can Khan win, he will soon find that this is an absurd notion, but that lesson will cost Pakistan dearly.
- The Pakistan People’s Party ruled for the previous five years and is led by the current President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari. The government’s only real achievement was that it became the first civilian government to survive its full five year term. The PPP is expected to lose big in the elections, possibly falling to third place behind the PTI. No matter the results, the PPP will try its best to join a coalition government as Zardari is desperate to be re-elected President in order to retain the immunity that protects him from corruption charges.
The provincial elections seem more straightforward as the PML-N and PPP are sure to retain their governments in Punjab and Sindh respectively. In Baluchistan moderate Baloch have agreed to contest the elections and will likely win. To his credit Nawaz Sharif has worked hard to reach out to the Baloch and his government, should he win, will likely have support from them. In Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa the PTI stands a good chance of being able to form a coalition government.
As for the Federal election no one knows how the results will play out but it is likely that the PML-N will win the most seats, followed either by the PTI or the PPP. Whether Sharif is able to cobble together a coalition or the other parties can ally to deny Sharif his third shot at power remains to be seen.
This election which mark the first time that a civilian government has completed its five year term and passed power on to another elected civilian government, is an important achievement for Pakistan. That it took 66 years to accomplish is a sad reminder of how much has gone wrong in Pakistan. Still the election has been the freest and fairest since Bangladesh seceded 42 years ago. The winner, whoever he may be, will have an unprecedented public legitimacy that will hopefully allow for the flexibility required to deal with the many crises facing the next government.
It would be dramatic to say that these elections are Pakistan’s last chance to save itself as a Nation-State, but these elections may very well prove to be the last best chance Pakistan has. With so many crises old and new, swift action is needed by the new Government. Any delay will prove disastrous.