Too many firsts

Asif Haroon Raja
The whole nation remained glued towards the elections and as May 11 neared, election fever heightened and so did variety of speculations and theories about election results. Political pundits remained divided about the winning party, some suggesting PML-N and others PTI as the victorious party. There was a tiny minority which kept insisting not to rule out PPP. Most suggested a close fight between PML-N and PTI in Punjab but there was general consensus that none will be able to achieve clear majority resulting in a hung parliament. Nobody had anything encouraging words about the coalition government produced out of a hung parliament.
While the pessimists kept insisting that elections will either be postponed or not held at all, among the analysts suggesting hung parliament, some feared a political impasse forcing the military establishment-judiciary-president to extend the period of interim government for another 1-2 years, make changes to bring in an efficient team to cleanse the Aegean stables on a crash program, carry out economic and electoral reforms, improve the security situation and then hold elections.          
Imran Khan’s fall from a lifter at a very crucial stage of election campaign which hospitalized him was another event which disturbed PTI workers and his fans all over the world. Security remained a common cause of consternation for all and sundry. Throughout the election campaign, bomb blasts and suicide attacks kept occurring causing death to 51 persons and injuries to many. Caretakers were admonished for failing to provide adequate security to the competing parties and ECP was censured for not fulfilling its obligations with regard to pre-poll rigging and screening of candidates. The Army had to soothe the disturbed minds of voters by assuring them that it is there to protect them. 70,000 troops were readied for deployment on Election Day. 
The Jayalas saw Zardari as the shrewdest and most skillful politician Pakistan had seen. They marveled at his jugglery with endless tricks up his sleeves to keep his opponents on the hop. He was applauded for keeping the coalition intact despite serious differences and for befooling Nawaz Sharif and making him keep the opposition friendly. Whenever the government found itself in a tight corner, they would confidently say that Zardari would find a way out. Any abnormal activity taking place and then getting defused was put into the credit basket of Zardari. Credit for completing five-year term was given to Zardari.
Jayalas were confident that Zardari would manage to put the PPP in the driving seat in the next elections, or as a minimum fall close behind the winning party. With majority in the Senate his re-election for second term was taken for granted and with his sitting in presidency till 2018, they had no fear about the scams in which they were involved and the safety of their ill-gotten wealth they had stashed in foreign banks. Tucked under the warm and secure feathers of mother hen, the Jayalas partaking their share in the loot didn’t ever bother as to what harm was being inflicted upon Pakistan and people not under Zardari’s protective care.      
May 11 results which shattered PPP didn’t surprise anyone but dumbfounded the Jayalas and PPP lovers. They could never envisage in their wildest dreams that PPP would get such a thrashing. All their hopes placed on PTI and PML-Q that the two would cut the power base of PML-N in Punjab and pave their way dashed when PTI vote caused maximum damage to PPP and demolished PML-Q. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa PTI almost wiped out PPP’s ally ANP. Their excitement about hung parliament which in their view would have increased the nuisance value of PPP also got deflated when PML-N easily got a near simple majority and two-third majority in Punjab Assembly.   
Notwithstanding allegations by the losing candidates, none can deny that the overall process of elections under turbulent political and security conditions took place amicably. At no place the terrorists could stop the election process, nor could they scare away the voters. Rather, the voter turnout crossed the figure of 60% equaling 1970 election turnout. Foreign monitoring bodies lauded the conduct of elections. There were quite a few firsts this time. For the first time an elected government completed its five-year term. Credit for this goes to Zardari’s misused policy of reconciliation which kept the coalition intact. Friendly opposition, restrained judiciary, cooperative military establishment and docile public helped the most corrupt, inefficient and careless regime to complete its tenure.
For the first time transition to next government through interim setup and ECP has taken place smoothly. The judiciary is independent and the ECP is under an upright and honest person chosen by consensus. For the first time the urban youth and women got so fervently energized. The two-party system was challenged for the first time by a third force in the shape of Imran led PTI. The traditional power base of PML in Punjab was threatened and breached for the first time by an outsider. PPP’s bastion of interior Sindh was challenged by PML-F led ten-party alliance of nationalists for the first time. In fact, retention of power by PPP surprised many. Rather than getting dented, it increased its vote bank. PPP will have to work extra hard to retain its tenuous hold in Sindh.
MQM’s unchallenged stronghold of Karachi was breached by PTI for the first time. FATA never witnessed such lively electoral enthusiasm where the TPP want imposition of Shariah under the barrel of gun. Pakistan never went through such a bloody election campaign in its history. For the first time the Army remained neutral and fully supportive of elections and continuation of democracy. By and large the print, electronic and social media played its part well in exposing corrupt practices of last government and keeping the public informed of mal practices in elections. Nawaz will make history by sitting on PM’s chair for the third time. All this indicates that the much sought change has come although not in totality.         
Glaring irregularities were found in certain polling stations in Karachi as a result of which five parties boycotted elections. Protesting PTI workers and fans staged a sit-in and demanded re-election. ECP has decided to hold re-election in NA-250 in 43 polling stations but MQM has rejected it saying that polling should be done in whole constituency and not selectively. The situation is still very tense owing to highly spiteful and threatening remarks of Altaf Hussain. Over 70,000 Pakistanis made complaints to London Metropolitan Police to restrain British national Altaf from inciting violence in Pakistan and to proceed against him legally. This is for the first time that such an animated response has been launched against violence prone MQM which has made lives of Karachiites miserable because of its terror tactics.
Things are fast settling down and PML-N is poised to form a government in the centre and also in Balochistan by co-opting PKMAP and NP with Sanaullah Zehri as chief minister. PTI will form a coalition government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) with QWP, JI and AJIP with Pervez Khattak as chief minister. Shahbaz Sharif will have no problem in forming a government in Punjab. In Sindh, PPP will form a government with MQM but issue of chief minister-ship may become touchy since MQM had from the outset claimed this seat. It is still to be seen who gets elected as the opposition leader in national assembly. Nawaz-Imran tiff has mellowed down after Nawaz’s visit to Shaukat Khanum hospital. Imran also seems to have accepted the ground realities and is determined to make KP a role model province and to play a real opposition role in parliament. He and Nawaz have agreed in principle to jointly struggle to tackle militancy and end the war on terror and restore peace in cooperation with the Army.

On the international front, a change for the good is discernible. Afghanistan is giving added headache by creating avoidable tensions on western border and issuing aggressive statements. Grating Hamid Karzai has sent a message of goodwill to Nawaz and has hoped for friendly neighborly relations between the two countries. Sarabjit-Sanaullah episode has further strained Indo-Pak relations. But Manmohan Singh’s invitation to Nawaz to visit India at the earliest has given hopes of improvement in relations between two arch rivals. Barack Obama has sent a positive message to prime minister designate Nawaz saying he is eagerly looking forward to meet him. Britain has sent message of goodwill. China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other Muslim countries have also greeted him.
Nawaz needs cooperation of all political and religious forces as well as foreign countries to be able to tackle complex problems of energy, economy, law and order and terrorism. If Nawaz and his team put national interests before self interest, it will be for the first time in Pakistan’s political history after Quaid-e-Azam’s one-year stint. 
The writer is a retired Brig, columnist and book writer.   

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