The Old and the New in Naya Pakistan: Civil Services Mentor Magazine August 2013

The Old and the New in Naya Pakistan

The victory of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party,
the geographically fragmented verdict, the lack of a clear ideological
distinction between the political parties in the fray and the poor showing of
progressive, left wing forces – suggest that there are part things “new” and
part things “old” in Pakistani politics following the election results in 2013.

The main slogan for the May 2013 Pakistan elections, was one
of change, for a naya (new) Pakistan. In important ways, the 2013 elections were
as important and as critical as the 1988 elections which began the process of
electoral politics – albeit not democracy – in Pakistan after a long, dark and
cruel military dictatorship.This time round, in 2013, while the transition, the
first ever from a democratically elected government to another, is very
different compared to 1988, the importance of a break from the past, is perhaps
more powerful than that of the 1988 elections.

Breaking from the Past

There are numerous obvious examples of what is new in these
elections and the many breaks from the past. For a start, perhaps the most
important aspect of these elections was, that for the first time a
democratically elected government held free and fair elections in Pakistan –
albeit with allegations and proof of rigging in some polling stations. Moreover,
the democratically elected government of 2008-13, willingly accepted its failure
and congratulated the winning parties, and for the first time in Pakistan, a
fully civilian government – no signs of Pakistan’s model of praetorian democracy
at play here – handed over power as per the Constitution to a caretaker
government which is expected to pass on power to the elected governments in
Pakistan by the end of this week. Given Pakistan’s histories of military
intervention, control, meddling, oversight, and much else, all these firsts are
by themselves, quite a remarkable achievement. While perhaps anticipated and
somewhat expected in many ways given the apparent trends and signs since 2007
and again in 2010,1 nevertheless, it is always still surprising in Pakistan’s
context that this process happened without the military’s interference.

What is also new, is that, Nawaz Sharif is about to be sworn
in as Pakistan’s first prime minister to be elected to that office for the third
time, a record which is unlikely to be broken for many years to come. Equally
refreshing, is the fact that the military general who removed Nawaz Sharif from
office in October 1999 and became Pakistan’s chief executive, and forced Nawaz
Sharif into many years of exile, is today in a Pakistani jail. It is not often
that one can celebrate the fact that Pakistan’s former president/general, the
former Chief of the Army Staff, is under arrest and investigation by Pakistani
courts, ironically by many of the lawyers of the Supreme Court who sanctified
general Pervez Musharraf’s coup in October 1999. While there is speculation that
Musharraf will be allowed to “get away”, even this temporary judicial and public
humiliation, is an important first in Pakistan.

New, also, is the fact that almost all experts got the
results of the elections very wrong. Barring just a handful, the results
announced by a large and wide variety of analysts, all suggested that no single
party would win enough seats to form a government on its own, and like the two
previous governments, Pakistan’s next government would also be a coalition
government. Nawaz Sharif surprised everyone by winning enough seats in the end
to form a government which is formed largely by his own party, and by some new
entrants who have joined him after the elections.

Not only that, one can also argue, that Nawaz Sharif is
probably – one should always be cautious about making predictions about Pakistan
– the first prime minister since Z A Bhutto in 1971, who ought to see a full
term of five years ahead of him. All elected governments after Z A Bhutto –
there have been seven – have been sworn in and functioned under the dark clouds
of the Pakistan military, often with a serving general as President of Pakistan
or with help from the notorious Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Nawaz Sharif,
at the moment at least, seems to be free of such fetters, again, a novel way to
start the term of a democratically elected government in Pakistan.


Go Back To Magazine Articles Main Page

Leave a Reply