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VIVE LE PAKISTAN: A Historic Election - Part I, Context and Background

May the 11th 2013 was a historic and long awaited day for the people of Pakistan. After five long years they had the opportunity to vote for change, to vote for what some had branded “naya Pakistan”, or a new Pakistan.

On the day itself a huge number of people exercised their basic democratic right to vote however this was overshadowed by acts of violence and allegations of electoral fraud.


Who are the winners and who are the losers? Were these elections fair? Is democracy now entrenched in Pakistan? What do these elections mean for the region and the world? Can Nawaz Sharif who has been elected the next Prime Minister of Pakistan overcome these challenges and help to create a new Pakistan?


Since the founding of Pakistan on the 14th of August 1947 Pakistan has been plagued by military coups and no civilian government had been able to finish a full term in power. However with these historic elections having taken place, for the first time in Pakistan’s 66 year history power has shifted from one civilian government to another civilian government.

So what made this possible? What has changed since the end of former General Musharaf’s reign in 2008?

Firstly the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led government that was elected in 2008 made a number of constitutional changes. Notably amendments 18 and 20, which return Pakistan to the system envisaged by the founders of the country and strengthen the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), an institution which can still be further empowered. After according assent to the 18th amendment, President Zardari stated “The doors of dictatorship have been closed forever”, a bold claim.

Secondly Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in 2010, increasing its commitment to basic rights such as the right to vote.

Thirdly, I note that the existence of a free and independent media is a basic condition for democracy. Though Pakistan’s media can still improve, they have been growing in confidence and the recent preliminary statement published by the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM) stated that “A diverse and vibrant media scene provided the Pakistani electorate with a range of viewpoints and scrutiny of the election process”.

Finally and most importantly, the people of Pakistan have shown a commitment to democracy. This can be seen in the increasingly vibrant civil society of Pakistan coming out in huge numbers amidst threats of violence. In the words of the EU EOM, violence of non-state actors did “not deter Pakistani citizens from casting their vote in unprecedented numbers and reconfirming their determined support for democratic rule”.

Having said this, though there have been many improvements, there is still room for further improvement. Many have especially criticised the fact candidates can stand for multiple seats, something that many of the prominent politicians do. Others have criticised the fact that dual nationals are not allowed to stand for election.

Michael Gahler, the EU's Chief Election Observer summed this up quite well when he said "while various aspects of the election process have improved, it is important that the framework for elections is further developed, so that democracy is strengthened".

The economy, corruption and violence by non-state actors

Even considering the ongoing violence in Pakistan, the most important thing for Pakistani voters is the economy. To many ordinary Pakistanis, democracy is not worth much if they are not able to provide food for their family and the success of Nawaz Sharif’s government will largely rest on whether it is able to improve the economic situation.

For the last several years many Pakistanis have been finding it difficult to keep up with the increases in fuel and food. The country is also suffering from an energy crisis which means that there is no electricity in Pakistan for the majority of the day and even when there is power it is provided in short intervals.

The last government attempted to tackle the economic problems, notably through investments in hydropower and projects such as the Iran-Pakistan gas line, which has been highly criticised. However the energy crisis goes on.

To add to all this, corruption is endemic in Pakistan which is further affecting the health of the country’s treasury. Following this some parties such as the PTI, led by the former cricket captain turned politician Imran Khan almost entirely based their campaign on ridding Pakistan of this disease.

Finally if these challenges are not enough, since the US led war on terror, as an ally of the US, Pakistan has been faced with an increasing militancy in the North West of the country and constant terrorist attacks. This has cost over 40,000 Pakistani lives and was a key political topic.

So who could you vote for?

Pakistan now has a new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N but why did the people vote for him? What were the other options open to them? Pakistan has a number of parties, the larger ones being PML-N, PTI, PPP and MQM.
PML-N, or Pakistan Muslim League Noon, is undoubtedly the biggest winner from these elections. The party which is lead by the now three time Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, has recently appointed the ministers of the new government. Sharif is the same person who was ousted from power by Musharaf in 1999. 

Furthermore Nawaz Sharif’s brother will continue to be the Chief Minister of Punjab and recently retook the oath.

PML-N is a centre right party in Pakistan which is almost entirely based in the province of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.
After the allotment of reserved seats for women and non-Muslims the PML-N have a simple majority in the National assembly, currently having 176 seats.

So why did the people vote for PML-N?

For one, the party has controlled the Provisional assembly of Punjab for some time, during this time they have invested in the Province, something many have benefitted from. Nawaz Sharif also has a reputation for investing in high profile infrastructure projects, something Pakistan is in dire need of. Following this he is credited for building the motorway from Lahore to Islamabad and is promising a bullet train from Karachi to Peshawar.

Many also hope that his business background will help Pakistan’s economy. In a recent statement clarifying his priorities Nawaz Sharif said “The economy, the economy, the economy”. Welcome words if he can deliver. It is promising to note that the Karachi stock exchange hit a high after the election results.

Since being appointed PM, Sharif has also reiterated his commitment to solving the energy crisis which is crippling Pakistan's economy. "The load shedding will be phased out every month starting very soon. Hopefully, down the line, neither the (electric) fans will stop throwing air nor the (factories) chimneys spewing smoke” stated Sharif.

Prior to the election, Nawaz Sharif also vowed to end Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terror and has subsequently promised to make the US stop its drone strikes.

PTI or the Pakistan Justice Party is the real story of these elections. Led by Imran Khan they claimed that the elections would act as a Tsunami and bring them to power.

Though Khan will not be the next Prime Minister, he has achieved the impossible, having gone from having no seats in the National Assembly to just under 40. With the support of the youth of Pakistan, Khan himself won three of the four NA seats he contested.


The party ran an anti-corruption, anti-war campaign. Khan had promised to end Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terror and to work on strengthening Pakistan’s international relationships. Khan has also been a strong opponent of US drone strikes in Pakistan and much more vocal than Sharif.

The party did quite well across the country and have done particularly well in Khyber Pakhtunkwa, one of Pakistan’s most troubled provinces. Khan successfully nominated Pervez Khattak of the PTI for the position of Chief Minister of this region. Khan also stated that this provisional government will be a role model for the other provinces. Khattak has recently reaffirmed his commitment to ensuring law and order and to ridding the region of corruption.

Recently, a PTI activist, Zahra Shahid Hussain was murdered and Imran Khan has stated that he holds Altaf Hussein, the leader of the MQM party directly responsible. Altaf Hussein is reported to have threatened a number of people in the run up to the election. It is reported that the London policing authorities are looking into the allegations into the London based politician.

The PPP or the Pakistan People’s Party is the party of the outgoing President. The party is a centre left party with a stronghold in rural Sindh, the most southern province of Pakistan.

The PPP rose to power in 2008 after the tragic murder of Benazir Bhutto, the wife of President Zardari and the mother of the current Chair of the PPP Bilawal Bhutto.

President Zardari recently announced that all three of his children will be active in politics.

Benazir Bhutto was a two time Prime Minister of Pakistan and is the only women to have held that role. In 2007 she returned to Pakistan from self-exile and was subsequently assassinated.

Unsurprisingly PPP, being the current government did not do so well in this election. They went from being the largest party in Pakistan, having 124 seats in the NA to having around 39. To rub salt into the wound, the seats lost included the seat held by the last Prime Minister of Pakistan, Pervaiz Ashraf and other key politicians.

President Zardari has stated that the party will look into the reasons for their defeat however claims that the party was not provided an equal platform and that there was no real leadership as Gilani (former PM) was preoccupied by the kidnapping of his son and Ashraf (PM) was preoccupied by court appearances.

Prezident Zardari has also blamed the party’s defeat on an international conspiracy.

Zardari stated that the elections were “well manipulated by the local and international actors against the PPP”

MQM or the Mutahida Quami Movement is a political party which has its stronghold in urban Sindh. Their leader has recently come under fire for implying that Karachi should be separated from Pakistan and for reportedly threatening people’s lives in the run up to the election.
The MQM are currently looking into legal action against the PTI for defamation.

Altaf Hussain also recently announced a cleanup of the MQM.


The last segment in this two-part series will be published in the coming days.  This article will speak to what the election means for Pakistan, and what the implications are for its neighbours and for the rest of the world.


Amjad Iqbal is an intern working at the European Parliament for a British MEP. Any opinions expressed are his own.



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