By Ejaz Haider
13 May, 2013
Pakistan has just had its elections which will transfer power, for the first time, from one fully civilian government to another, a major plus in a country that has grappled with the succession principle.
It's not the only one. Consider. A civilian government managed to complete its five-year term without the political opposition trying to pull it down with covert help from the military. The PML-N — which, by all indicators, will form the next government at the Centre and in the Punjab — was dubbed a "friendly opposition" by the detractors of the PPP. But Mian Nawaz Sharif, the PML-N leader, despite attempts by PPP to bring him down in Punjab, resisted playing a hand that could have destabilised the PPP-led government.
Reason: his own experience in the 1990s, when the establishment played one party against another, and how he was ousted in the 1999 coup. Sharif's refrain in the last five years was that he won't do anything to derail the system.
Another positive is the emergence of Imran Khan's PTI. Khan managed to galvanise the young voter, cutting across socio-economic strata. When he literally took a fall, those praying for his early recovery included youngsters with designer glasses in the upscale areas of Lahore and Karachi and those selling Chai in the bazaars of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. But there's more to the PTI phenomenon.
The debate in the drawing rooms used to oscillate between who is better: the corrupt, inept politicians or the efficient, managerially effective, albeit extra-constitutional army or quasi-army rule. If the political jokers can't deliver, let's get the Faujis to streamline things. Khan changed that. For once, people thought they had a choice within the democratic system. The civil or military binary was gone. For this alone Khan and his PTI must get credit.
Then, in this election specifically, there was the terrorist threat. The Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has constantly rejected the foundations of the Pakistani state. And while the TTP's threats and actions marred the campaign, the over 60 per cent turnout, the highest ever in Pakistan's, is the most effective rejection of the TTP's exclusionary ideology.
Finally, the civil-military imbalance that has prevented Pakistan from establishing a democratic institutional framework is headed towards righting itself. The military has chosen to stay out of the political. And while the civilians have yet to increase their capacity to deal with the security sector, a second-generation problem, the first-generation problem is over — i.e., the fear of coups d'etat. This is just the beginning, though.
The Days Ahead
There are problems within the system. The voting system favours established parties, which is why the PTI, despite a groundswell, did not do as well as it could have. Khan was relying on issues, regardless of whether one agrees or not with his solutions. At the same time he needed candidates that could win because politics in Pakistan, even for National Assembly seats, is local. How does one piggyback issues to success when the system does not allow the emergence of median voter, which is a function of direct voting across a country?
Constituency politics is strange. Spending money works, as it did in favour of the PML-N. Even so, it is a surprise that while Khan lost urban seats in Punjab despite high youth turnout, in KPK, with different socio-economic indicators, he has nearly swept others aside. How and why did the KPK electorate not vote traditionally? The answer would need some empirical analysis.
That the Awami National Party did not govern well or was corrupt, can only provide a partial answer. The PPP has been punished. The party was expecting it and, if it gets its act together, this drubbing might do it some good. The PML-N is the winner in all this, proving once again how difficult it is for an entrant to break the traditional template. That said, there is a sense that because the PML-N also gets its vote primarily from the urban areas of Punjab, the vote got swung in its favour because Sharif built his profile on criticising PPP's poor governance and promising to do what the PPP did not and what the PTI could not, given the latter's inexperience.
The challenges before the PML-N are many. The economy needs to be kick-started; the problem of terrorism is to be tackled; more energy needs to be put on the grid; there are challenges within and outside the region. Consensus has to be built on issues that require some hard decisions. The provinces have already become more powerful post 18th Amendment. If Sharif begins to falter, the pro-PML-N wave will ebb before one could sayJack Robinson. Sharif is about to enter choppy waters. Welcome to the complexity called Pakistan.
Ejaz Haider is editor of national security affairs, Capital TV