The world's bravest democracy

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Pakistan may not be the world's largest democracy, but is certainly the world's bravest. Over 50 million voters braved heat, violence, and terrorism...

Pakistan may not be the world's largest democracy, but is certainly the world's bravest. Over 50 million voters braved heat, violence, and terrorism to cast their votes and wrote a new chapter in the history of democracy. The al Qaeda franchise in Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), had vowed to target anyone who would participate in the electoral process in Pakistan.

Numerous attacks and suicide bombings by the TTP targeted liberal-minded candidates, resulting in the pre-poll deaths of over 100 individuals. Despite these overt threats to their security and the mercury rising over 40 degrees Celsius, Pakistani voters showed courage and resilience and cast almost 100 million votes (for provincial and National Assemblies) against the al Qaeda's murderous ideology.

The world owes its gratitude to the people of Pakistan who, despite losing over 40,000 lives in the imposed war on terror, continued to fight against religious orthodoxy and violent fanaticism. The results of May 11 elections prove once again that, if given the opportunity, Pakistani masses would embrace democracy against the religious orthodoxy.

With over 86.189 million registered voters, 5000 candidates competing for the 342 seats of National Assembly, 11,692 candidates vying for the 728 Provincial Assembly seats, and over 600,000 army and security personnel deployed, elections in Pakistan are one of the largest exercises in democracy in scale and scope. Despite the violence that claimed almost 130 lives during electioneering, and threats for even more terrorist violence abound, Pakistanis came out in droves to be a part of the democratic process.

A quick look at the results reveals that Pakistanis have shown faith in the leadership of two individuals, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan. Given that Nawaz and Khan agree on most elements of foreign policy, and they share the same aspirations for corruption-free and efficient governance while adhering to the supremacy of courts, both may be closer in their political outlooks than what many observers believe.

With Mian Nawaz Sharif returning to power for a third term, this still leaves the door open for Khan to be elected as the President of Pakistan later. It is highly unlikely that the current President, Asif Ali Zardari, will be able to function effectively, especially after his party has been shown the door by the electorate. This provides for the opportunity to have Khan restore credibility to the office of the President, which has suffered under Zardari's tenure.

While the new government may be tempted to promise the world to the starved masses, it will be wise not to give in to the temptation. Thus promising jobs for everyone in months, the end to corruption in 90 days, and a quick end to the load shedding are the kind of promises that no government will be able to fulfil in a jiffy. A key challenge for the new government, therefore, will be to manage expectations of the electorate. Despite the assertion by some economists that the rate of economic growth could be doubled in Pakistan if the government were to follow their advice, it will be wise not to hope for economic miracles. The path to economic recovery will be circuitous and painful where things may get even worse before they will get better. The government should be bold and honest enough to communicate this reality to the masses.

The restoration and maintenance of law and order should be one of the top three priorities of the new government. Pakistan is imploding under sectarian and other religion-inspired violence. Those who have taken up arms against the State and have targeted innocent civilians should be dealt with full resolve. The new government has the explicit support of millions of voters and their families. It should act swiftly and decisively to eliminate the seed of terrorism from Pakistan's soil.

By casting their vote in the May 11 elections, the 50-plus million Pakistanis have again become a stakeholder in the future of their homeland. While Pakistanis have elected their leaders on May 11, they should remember that great nations are made not just by great leaders but by great followers, who resiliently pursue their ideals for a prosperous and just society.

� From The Dawn

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