Pakistan’s Historic Election Opportunity

May 10, 2013 Updated: May 10, 2013

After decades of military rule and fleeting moments of democracy, Pakistan will elect the second government in a row on May 11. The days and weeks leading up to the election have been disrupted by violence, but the country is determined to hold free and transparent elections.

“It is much more important that the elections will be free, fair, and transparent,” Faruk Satter, the leader of the Pakistani Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) told Epoch Times contributor Shams Ul-Haq at a meeting with German journalists this week.

Satter’s  secular liberal party has lost 65-70 party members in the run-up to the elections, mainly due to bombings and assassinations by the Pakistani faction of the Taliban.

“Under the current circumstances, three parties have been singled out. That is the clear message of the terrorists. The Tehrik-Taliban Pakistan doesn’t want the secular parties MQM, Awami National Party, and Pakistan People’s Party to participate in the elections,” he said.  A victory of nationalist or Muslim parties would likely result in reduced cooperation with the U.S. war on terror.

American drone strikes and anti-terrorism operations to fight the Taliban in Northern Pakistan have been a controversial issue for the Pakistani people. Nonetheless, leaders from most parties have indicated they would continue cooperating with the United States, a crucial point if President Barack Obama sticks to his idea of a 2014 withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.

While condemning violence and not supporting any particular party, a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said at a press conference: “We support the right of the Pakistani people to participate fully in the election of their representatives and their ability to fulfill their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic nation.”

Security will continue to be an issue at the roughly 70,000 polling stations throughout the country; 21,000 of these stations have been labeled as “sensitive” by the government, as they could be attacked by terrorists. Meanwhile, another 30,000 of the booths have been specifically reserved for the 37 million women who have the right to vote.

Because of domestic and societal discrimination, however, many of the women will likely stay home. Eighty-five million of Pakistan’s 180 million citizens are allowed to vote in the election of the 342-seat national assembly. The assembly then determines who the prime minister will be in a majority vote.    

Other issues framing the election are a bad economic situation and frequent electricity outages across the country. During the previous five years in power, the Pakistan People’s Party could not remedy the situation and will likely lose its majority.  A Gallup Pakistan poll from March predicts the People’s Party will win only 14 percent of the vote.

The poll puts the conservative Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz ahead of the other parties, with 39 percent of the vote. The party is led by Nawaz Sharif, a three-time former prime minister. In principle, the party favors strong relations with Western countries, but doesn’t unconditionally support the war on terror, as some members view it as a war against Islam.

In order to be able to elect a prime minister, there will have to be a coalition of several parties.

“There is going to be a mosaic of political parties—a kind of a hung parliament in a classical way, and then they will start making coalitions,” Muhammad Waseem told Radio Free Europe. “Probably the leading party will be able to pull the strings [together].”