Spearhead Analysis – 13.05.2013
Pakistan has just concluded its general elections — a historic event because this marks the first transition from an elected government that completed its term to another elected government. A two time Prime Minister has been voted in for a third tenure with a considerable majority but with the emergence of a powerful new force in Pakistani politics — the Tehrik e Insaf (PTI) led by the cricketer turned philanthropist turned politician, Imran Khan. The Peoples Party that led the last coalition government remains in the game but with a vastly reduced presence with most of its leaders voted out on the basis of their five year performance. This election also marks the highest ever voter turn-out — over 60% and the advent of a new voting motivation among all classes — including those who preferred arm chairs to queues in the sun previously. Neither the heat, nor the inconvenience nor the threat of violence kept people indoors. Overall Elections 2013 indicated a political maturity that augers well for sustainable democracy in Pakistan.
Post elections there are the inevitable allegations of rigging, of mismanagement and fraud but considering the magnitude and duration of the event the scale on which such events occurred is minimal. The political leaders have accepted the results and their statements have been positive with a focus on the future except for some unfortunate utterances from one quarter that hinted at divisiveness and ethnic bias but this has found zero resonance in the larger context. The Election Commission will without a doubt take appropriate action and hopefully lessons will be learnt for the future. Fingers are being pointed at the establishment for real and imagined grievances but there is general appreciation of their detachment from the political scene over the last five years, their declared support for democracy and their role of providing security in a heavily threatened environment even as they maintained operational readiness on the borders and against insurgents. The Tehrik Taleban Pakistan (TTP) and its sectarian and ethnic supporters sought to make themselves a factor in the elections by creating a leftist and rightist divide under the shadow of violence but ended up making this a struggle between democratic and anti-democracy forces. The voting pattern clearly demonstrated the enormous urge for democracy, abhorrence for violence and distaste for any hard right turn in Pakistan’s political direction.
The victorious party under an experienced leader and with many competent stalwarts in its ranks has a daunting task. It has to ensure political cohesiveness because of divisive tendencies and grievances that some will seek to exploit. Reconciliation rather than vindictiveness on the basis of the past should be the preferred policy option. Inevitably a numbers game will start as parties scramble for an advantage — here the elected strength of the PML(N) should help avoid the horse trading of the past and the law requiring independents to join a party will help. Magnanimity rather than viciousness should be the trend. The economy needs urgent attention and reforms must be announced as soon as possible. An economic team that gains domestic and international credibility on the basis of competence is absolutely essential because of the near inevitability of going to the IMF, steps to stop the hemorrhaging in the public sector enterprises and state institutions, raising revenue and restricting spending. The economy is intertwined with the security situation and this is where these interact with foreign policy. A clear National Security Strategy will provide much needed strategic direction in all three areas. Civil-military relations must be good to harness the structural and organizational strength of the military institution behind all policies including counter terrorism. The last government never really gained credibility in spite of bold legislative measures because of the failure in the governance field — much will, therefore, depend on the team chosen to govern because without credibility, public and media support will not be assured and nor will our international image improve.
The temptation to gain time and space through distractions by delving into the past must be resisted. The focus has to be on the present and future. Pakistanis yearn for change, for human security, for an end to the misery of power outages, for economic well being, jobs, health facilities and education opportunities. If the people matter then these should be the real priorities.
(Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)