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Pakistan: A New Beginning?

Thursday 16 May 2013

Although opposition leader Nawaz Sharif was favored going into Pakistan’s fraught parliamentary elections on Saturday, nobody predicted that his party would win so convincingly. The weeks leading up to the vote were marred by the worst election violence in the country’s history, combined with widespread fear that a divided electorate would fail to produce a government with sufficient clout to deal with growing intolerance, multiple insurgencies, and an imploding economy. But the strong victory by Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML) amid high voter turnout now holds the promise of greater stability—and with it the possibility that a civilian government might at last be equipped to tackle some of these challenges.

The task will not be easy. In the four weeks leading up to the vote, the Taliban and other groups killed more than 150 people and injured some 400. On May 3, the country’s top prosecutor was gunned down in his car in Islamabad, the capital, in broad daylight. The son of former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gailani was kidnapped two days before the elections. And on election day itself, bomb explosions, suicide attacks, and assassinations claimed the lives of 38 people and left another 150 wounded.

The Pakistani Taliban—who are separate from the Afghan Taliban—had vowed to force the government to cancel the elections, which they consider un-Islamic, and had targeted the country’s secular and liberal parties in particular. But the stunning turnout—60 percent of eligible voters compared to just 43 percent in the last election—showed that many Pakistanis refused to be cowed by the violence and clearly wanted their voices heard.

While a final tally was still pending Monday, Sharif’s party is likely to get around 130 of the 137 seats needed to form a government. The swing in his favor means he does not have to form a coalition with his main rivals—the Justice Party (officially the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, or PTI), led by former cricketer Imran Khan, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by President Asif Ali Zardari, who has run the government for the past five years. Instead, Sharif can form a coalition government with smaller regional parties and independents, who will be less prone to blackmailing him for ministries and rewards.

More on The New York Review of Books website

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