The much postponed, anticipated, feared and speculated about elections for the parliament in Pakistan are done and over with. Contrary to most expectations, they were smoothly dealt with and to a large degree even qualified as free and fair. The process of finalising the next government is in the very last stages and the newly elected parliament will vote for the next Prime Minister on the 25th of March. After an extremely tumultuous year, marred by protests against President Pervez Musharraff and his government, the result of the elections was a triumph for the opposition.
Jubilant demonstrations on the streets and finally smiles instead of angry abuses marked the landscape of Pakistan on the day results were announced. Despite the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, her party (PPP) now lead by her husband, Asif Zardari, managed to win the largest amount of seats in the national assembly followed by the second largest opposition party (PML-N) lead by Nawaz Sharif. Elections were still not the most democratic considering the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and the fact that Nawaz Sharif was stopped from contesting the elections. Still, it can be said that by and large further political chaos was avoided and Pakistan was put back on the road to democracy.
Pervez Musharraff still remains the President of Pakistan; however, it would be a spectacle worth watching how he would cope with a parliament strongly against him and eager to get rid of his legacies in the running of the government. The next Prime Minister would be crucial in his relationship with the President and how much space he would allow to Musharraff. PPP and PML-N have decided to form a coalition and to run the government jointly. Their candidate for the position of Prime Minister is Yusuf Raza Gillani who is expected to win easily, although being a senior politician he is not a very well known figure across the whole country. But with the senior most politicians not being able to contest, it was clear from the outset that real power and policy will come from national leaders of the two parties outside the parliament. This can be a possible problem but does not seem to be an immediate hindrance. Another laudable result from the elections has been the election of the first female speaker of the National Assembly. Pakistan though having been ruled by a woman Prime Minister twice in the 90’s, the first among all Islamic Nations, will now play host to the first female speaker of the parliament.
As far as foreign policy matters are concerned, especially the war on terror, tactics are bound to be changed as both PPP and PML-N have clearly said. Both parties are not necessarily anti-American and agree with providing help for the war on terror however they would be unlikely to support the war militarily. Both of them have been shy of details as to what their plans are. Still, they are keen to move away from sheer force employed by Musharraff and will be looking more towards negotiations with all sectors of the community. Suicide bombings in Pakistan are still happening, though not on a regular scale, they are definitely the immediate problem that the new government faces. A distancing from the previous foreign policy of unconditional loyalty to America seems to be on the horizon yet at the same time much more secular forces are now in power. The most crucial province of NWFP, which borders Afghanistan, and is the abode of many tribes allegedly causing trouble is now under the government of a secular party rather than the Islamic party which had ruled it for the past five years. All in all, things seem to be moving in a much more positive direction and I hope the new government delivers what millions of Pakistan seem to be expecting and have been waiting for.
Written by: Syed Haider Shahbaz