Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times…. Congratulations, you have once again been elected as Prime Minister of Pakistan. The re-election of Nawaz Sharif to one of the highest echelons of government is somewhat perplexing to say the least.
There are approximately 140 Pakistani students at the University of Nottingham. Impact caught up with some of them to find out what they think about the result.
Current electoral legislation in Pakistan prevents overseas students from voting. The frustration at not being able to vote was shared by many Pakistani students at Nottingham. It is assumed by some to be a deliberate attempt on the part of the Pakistani government to disenfranchise the youth vote.
One student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Impact: “I think it was unfair that the vote wasn’t extended to Pakistanis overseas- I think it would’ve made a huge difference to the turnout and the outcome.”
Another said that they believed the Pakistani government “deliberately dragged its heels in not allowing those overseas to vote. It knows where our political loyalties lie, and it’s not with them [the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party].
“Pakistan’s youth played a massive role in these elections- we’ve got the numbers and unlike the older generations we’re not going to vote on the basis of a person’s surname. Pakistani politics rivals Dave with its re-runs; it’s stuck on a constant loop of Bhuttos, Sharifs and the military. It’s one big, fat joke .”
63 year old Sharif, leader of Pakistan’s Muslim League (N) party, served as Pakistan’s prime minister from 1990 to 1993 and again from 1997 to 1999 before being removed in a coup d’état by military general Pervez Musharraf, and subsequently being tried, jailed and ultimately exiled to Saudi Arabia.
More than a decade later, it seems the Pakistani people have been quite forgiving or quite forgetful, and re-elected him once more.
In a country where GDP per capita averages at $2,960, Nawaz Sharif’s personal estimated net worth is $1.2 billion, with many alleging corruption and tax evasion as being a substantial source of this wealth.
Pakistan has been under military rule for more than half of the country’s 57-year history; observers are keen to emphasise that 11th May saw a significant milestone being reached- the first “democratic” transition of one elected civilian government to another. There may have been elections, but they were neither “free” nor “fair”.
Violence leading up to the elections, including car and suicide bombings, claimed more than 130 lives, with 29 killed on Election Day alone.
Despite the threat of violence, turnout reached a historic 60% of eligible voters exercising their right, compared to only 44% in 2008. A large part of the higher turnout was down to the country’s increasingly politicised youth; 63% of the population is under the age of 25.
President of UoN’s Pakistan Society, Rafia Khatri, commented: “Five years laden with political, economic and social chaos were an automatic and effective mechanism to mobilise Pakistanis, especially the youth, to cast their votes. The overwhelming participation of Pakistanis throughout these elections signified how determined Pakistanis are to rehabilitate their country.”
After having queued for hours on end, some of those in Pakistan who did venture to the polling stations were, however, met with intimidation and coercion, with some voters even being turned away point-blank without being able to cast their votes.
Despite YouTube being blocked in Pakistan, activists and concerned citizens have taken to the web to disseminate evidence of phoney votes being registered:
Ballot boxes full of votes being discarded on the streets:
and proof of women casting fake votes:
49 polling stations were alleged to have had over 100% voter turnout, with more votes apparently being cast than the number of registered voters.
One of the largest suspected casualties of the alleged vote rigging is the cricketer turned politician Imran Khan whose Pakistan Movement for Justice (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, PTI) party was expected to make significant gains. Khan, an Oxford University PPE graduate, offered a fresh glimpse of hope for a populace tired of kleptocratic rulers who have kept the country’s economy almost stagnant.
In response to the alleged vote rigging and encouraged by Khan’s PTI party, protests have erupted across the nation, with tens of thousands of Pakistanis taking to the streets to demand re-elections in some areas. In response, the Election commission of Pakistan (ECP) has formed 14 election tribunals to investigate the complaints.
Meanwhile, section 144 of the code of criminal procedure has been imposed in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, in response to the protests. The controversial section bans gatherings of more than four people at a time for rallies and protests, or what it calls “unlawful assembly”. Large crowds demanding re-elections have also gathered in the Punjabi city of Lahore, and the country’s capital city, Islamabad, amongst others.
PTI’s party slogan “Naya Pakistan”, meaning “New Pakistan”, was what many, in particular the country’s youth, wanted to see.
For a nation that’s long been ruled by political dynasties who treat the country as one of their personal family heirlooms (Benazir Bhutto, deceased leader of the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party bequeathed the party’s chairmanship to her husband in her will), PTI in opposition is a step, albeit a baby step, in the right direction.
More pessimistically, however, with the same old face as Prime Minister, many political pundits are predicting a classic case of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”.