May 11, 2013 was an important day for Pakistan and a good day for democracy. My five years old daughter will remember this day when she grows up, not only because it is her birth day but also because it was a promising day for the people of her mother’s country of birth. General elections were held which saw the first transition between civilian governments in a country since 66 years of its existence.
The Pakistani Taliban party Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had vowed to target the participants of the electoral process specifically those associated with the secular political parties. These included the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Awami National Party (ANP) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM). The run up to the elections saw over 130 people killed. On the day of the election itself 30 people died due to bomb blasts. Despite these threats and violence and the fear it caused, over 60 percent of the electorate came out and voted. It was a massive exercise indeed that saw millions of people voting in hundreds of polling stations all across the country.
As the DAWN newspaper’s editorial on 12 May noted, “That the Pakistani public has embraced democracy as the way forward despite all manners of threats and assaults on the democratic system is perhaps the single most reassuring development for the democratic project going forward”.
Back in 1999, the government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML(N)), was overthrown by a military coup engineered by the then chief of the Army General Pervez Musharraf. The General ruled till 2008 after which he had to hold elections amidst rising protests. In the electoral campaign that followed, leader of the PPP, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. The General was accused of deliberately not providing security for the deceased leader. The elections were held on February 18, 2008 and brought PPP to power. Musharraf fled to London in a self-imposed exile.
For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the government completed its five year term. As per the rules agreed upon by all participating political parties, an interim government was installed whose task was to organize the elections that were held on May 11, 2013.
Ironically, Pervez Musharraf came back from London, formed a political party and made an application to contest elections. His application was rejected and he was charged with unlawful activities during his dictatorship and confined to house arrest. The man whom he had ousted in the military coup in 1999, Nawaz Sharif and his party PML (N) has won these elections and in days to come will be sworn in as the next Prime Minister of Pakistan.
A relatively new entrant in parliamentary elections the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has made its mark in these elections. Although it got extraordinary coverage during the election campaign, some urban media even predicting the party as a possible coalition partner in the government, it got only 34 seats while PML (N) bagged 126 seats out of a total of 272 seats in the National Assembly. The outgoing PPP managed to win only 33 seats.
Indian and Pakistani politicians bash each other’s country, especially during election campaigns, in order to excite their nationalist voters. There was no India bashing during the election campaign in Pakistan and after having won, Nawaz Sharif extended an invitation to the Indian Prime Minister to attend his swearing-in ceremony.