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Democracy on the March in Pakistan
After an anxious week of threats and violence, voters in Pakistan went to the polls on May 11 to elect a new parliament. They gave another mandate to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz Party (PML-N) and sent the ruling Pakistan People’s Party to join the opposition.
There were a number of election observation missions working in Pakistan over the last few months, and they have reported encouraging provisional findings. The National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) and the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) fielded one of the larger international missions and had this to say (you can read the full statement here):
The 2013 elections were a critical step in continuing the nation’s return to democracy, which began five years ago. Millions of Pakistanis expressed their support for the democratic process by voting despite extremist attempts to disrupt the polls. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) estimated voter turnout around 60 percent. Voters’ courage and resolve in casting their ballots despite the mounting violence was a victory for democracy and the people of Pakistan. The stage has been set for the country’s first transfer of power from one democratically elected government to the next.
The European Union (EU) also sent an election observation mission to Pakistan, and they too were impressed (preliminary statement here):
Strong commitment was shown to the democratic process by political parties, candidates and voters, who continued to participate in the electoral process despite high levels of militant attacks in parts of the country that escalated against certain parties in particular and ultimately affected the process. Violence by non-state actors unbalanced the playing field and distorted the election process considerably in affected areas. It did, however, not deter Pakistani citizens from casting their vote in unprecedented numbers and reconfirming their determined support for democratic rule, thereby defying extremist threats and actions.
In a region where non-state actors, terrorists, and opponents of democracy have been throwing their minds, bodies, and weapons against the will of their fellow countrymen and -women, it is refreshing to know that in all likelihood Pakistan – despite the regrettable violence during the campaign - is poised to have its first transition of power between elected civilian governments.
The path toward democratic stability is rarely straight and never easy. Pakistan has been forced to endure coups, violence and unrest. This election is a significant achievement for the people of Pakistan and shows how a determined electorate can foil a small minority trying to destroy progress.
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