Pakistan is finally moving towards elections.
After several skirmishes with the concept over the past several decades, the country has just completed her second successive democratic transition.
It’s shaping up to be a fascinating election, and it’s not clear who’s in the driver seat.
That’s a departure from the elections of yonder, where the results of elections were largely predictable.
In 2008, PPP rode into office largely on the triumphant return and the ultimate tragedy of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, while Nawaz Sharif became Prime Minister once again after laying some solid groundwork during his party’s five-year rule in Punjab province.
As we see PML-N’s performance in last five years, we can says that , on the surface, Sharif performed well.
A relatively stable economy, greatly reduced level of terrorism, and an uptick of foreign investment.
A hard look into their rule though, highlights several troubling aspects.
There has been a grievous attack on freedom of expression during PML-N’s reign. Stories and coverage critical of the government had been surpressed, and journalists have been assaulted and ‘kidnapped’.
Their government had introduced draconian measures where parts of the internet have been censored and dissent against the government may land you in trouble with the law.
Speaking up against the perceived wrongdoings of the ruling party is one of the essential tenets of democracy. The fact that brave individuals who dare to speak out are being systematically silenced should shake us to the core.
The fact remains that PML-N leaders remained entangled in allegations of corruption rendering them incapable to serve masses to the fullest.
Ministers weren’t able to effectively govern, as they cover the backs of their fellow party members in heated talk shows and conferences.
There was no knowing whether a top candidate such as Maryam Nawaz would even be eligible to participate in polls.
This created scenes of constant chaos and disrupts stability in terms of governance.
Stability is important, lest darker forces again abandon the great experiment of democracy and go back to the dark, yet painted over, days of authoritarianism.
The former ruling party had also inflicted great harm to the country in the foreign arena.
Pakistan didn’t have a formal foreign minister for almost three years. When Khawaja Asif was finally given the charge of all-important ministry, the courts disqualified from office and the ministry fell to a relatively obscure lawmaker who was already shouldering the burden of running other departments.
It’s difficult to overstate the magnitude of the country ignoring international affairs for the past few years.
President Trump had openly called out Pakistan for aiding and abetting terrorists, and the United States has now fully pivoted towards India.
There’s also the simple fact that no matter who is named the next Prime Minister, the deposed Sharif will constantly be in their ear. They may display an aura of independence from the former PM, but it’s clear that they would lack say on major issues related to governance. This would essentially create an invisible, unaccountable, and unrelated hand running the strings of the country.
The courts have already rendered Sharif ineligible and the fact that he will continue to work behind the scenes while using a glorified puppet to keep up appearances is a catastrophe waiting to happen.
The Muslim League Nawaz is also slowly disintegrating.
Feuds over the departure of Chaudhry Nisar, Sharif’s controversial remarks on the Mumbai attacks, and regular disagreements between Nawaz and Shahbaz show signs of deep cracks enemating at the core.
The fact that several lawmakers have abandoned the party has only added fuel to the fire.
There are questions about the future of the party, and there’s the sneaking fear of a collapse within the ranks. The disunity in the party may become more prominent if Sharif goes on another spectacular news breaking spree.
Pakistan greatly needs to make the great democratic experiment work for the sole reason that we simply cannot go back to the days of authoritarianism.
We need to make sure that our rulers are the ones who we choose.