Victory for Nawaz Sharif’s PML (N) party in May’s general elections marked a monumental occasion in Pakistan’s history. This was the first democratic transition between parliaments in its fragile 66-year life as a nation.
Sharif’s installation as Prime Minister and the creation of a coalition government follows elections where a raucous media, a rejuvenated youth and a wave of anti-corruption sentiment produced an invigorated campaign and a genuine atmosphere of political change.
Support swelled for cricketing hero Imran Khan’s centrist PTI party, which won the second largest number of votes, but they came third behind the former ruling PPP party in terms of seats in the National Assembly.
Turnout was high at around 55%, up from 44% in 2008, despite Taliban attacks on several polling stations aiming to deter voters.
Countering this terrorism and curbing Taliban influence in the northern areas of Pakistan will be top of Nawaz Sharif’s priorities in government. Other issues he must tackle include alleviating poverty and illiteracy, solving the country’s energy crises, improving relations with India and tackling corruption.
But hearing his promises of change and reform, how do young Pakistanis feel about their country’s future? Is there cause for hope and optimism? Or will nothing change?
Dr Muhammad Arshad, founder of Durham’s India-Pakistan Society and a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Durham’s Chemistry department, said he was feeling positive about recent events. ‘This election has seen the youth of Pakistan and an upper class of society come out to vote for the first time,’ he said.
‘The political situation is now very different because of the pro-activeness of the Pakistani media and the involvement of the youth in politics. But Nawaz Sharif should be well aware that he and his party will have to take lots of positive steps to be re-elected. I can only hope that his government does not repeat the mistakes of the past.’
Dr Arshad’s cautious optimism was echoed by Ali Hameed, an activist from Islamabad who is the founder of the Sha’oor Society, a student organization that aims to raise moral and social awareness among Pakistan’s youth.
Mr Hameed said: ‘These were the most moving and ‘happening’ elections in Pakistan’s history. I voted for the PTI who talked about justice, self-reliance and self-esteem. But overall I’m happy because democracy has won in Pakistan.’
‘People came out of their homes and voted for what was right for them. This will surely make for a strong future because democratic institutions have been strengthened.’
Haseeb Khan is a 2nd year Historian at Josephine Butler who has parents from Pakistan. He spoke of the importance of the PTI in creating an atmosphere of hope.
‘Generally I’m very sceptical about Pakistani politics but I think the PTI have changed things,’ he said. ‘Their rhetoric is fresh and Imran Khan is a national hero. He has spoken out against corruption and he is anti-American and anti-drones. A friend of mine told me that, if overseas Pakistanis could have voted, 99% of them probably would have voted for Imran Khan.’
But Haseeb sounded a note of caution in his views on the future. ‘As long as power remains in the hands of the same elites and families, not much will change,’ he said. ‘But if we can get past that, there’s hope.’
Published at Palatinate Online, Durham’s Official Student Newspaper, 2nd June 2013 – http://www.palatinate.org.uk/?p=39880