By the time you wake up to read this paper, please expect everything to have changed. And it is not the change a political party is promising. On the face of it, it is a risky transformation. After witnessing the broad daylight abduction of Ali Haider Gilani and deadly attacks on several other candidates, we do not know how much damage the terrorists can do on this day. On a political level, too, it seems a choice between the inept and the obscurant at best. But don’t let these petty issues crush your spirit. Today’s change has bigger significance than that, for today we prove that we have finally become a true democracy.
It was for this day that we had to endure the unfounded allegations of being apologists of an incompetent if not downright corrupt government. As the first civilian to civilian democratic transition of our history materialises before our eyes, we can tell ourselves that any mistake we make in choosing our representatives today can be corrected by the end of the new term, as long as we firmly uphold the democratic principle. That might not be enough for the impatient among us but to this scribe, it is epoch-making in essence.
From General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s departure to his return, the tiff between the judiciary and the executive, the antics and semantics of Tahirul Qadri, the never-ending reign of terror, disasters and conspiracies, the new democratic order has proven that it can sustain any shockwave and still prevail. And here we should give full credit to the army and its chief, after the people of Pakistan, of course, to help us maintain the course.
But that doesn’t mean that we have the luxury of making grave mistakes today. As hinted above, it is a sad commentary on the state of politics in this country that we got landed with the worst set of options possible. The two serious alternatives are decidedly soft on matters of national security as crucial as terrorism. Also, the amount of negative political advertising and trash talk we came across during this campaign was enough to leave one disgusted. In an angry nation, more heat doesn’t bode well for national harmony.
And what we had in the last five years was an unmitigated disaster. When incompetence wrapped in hubris is sold to you with a smug smile, the helplessness you feel cannot be described in words. And when remaining in power becomes an end in itself, this is to be expected. But if I were to make a choice between the four major coalition partners, what passes for liberal parties in this country, the Awami National Party (ANP) would have invariably been my only choice. The ANP has not only sacrificed profusely for the values it professes but from a party often accused of being anti-Pakistan, it has transformed its image and become a true voice for a strong federation. But unfortunately, right now, it is not a national player. I can only hope and pray it becomes one soon.
This leaves us with the centre-right parties, namely the PML-N and the PTI. One hopes that once in power, these parties will address this country’s national security concerns. To be honest, I was fairly undecided only until a week ago. But then Imran Khan fell from the lifter and everything changed. For someone who has always admired Imran Khan as a cricketing legend and a great philanthropist, his messianic talks after the sad episode were nothing short of a rude awakening. So, between the devil you know and the devil you don’t, I have decided to go for the former. But that is a personal choice. You have every right to differ with me.
And finally, a couple of predictions about election day. I see a huge turnout despite all odds. But contrary to general expectations, this voter surge will not benefit a single party. When one party mobilises its supporters on election day, others manage to do exactly the same. Secondly, I don’t foresee a hung parliament. With the help of pre-poll alliances, the frontrunner, I believe, will be able to conveniently form the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2013.