Nawaz Sharif, 3.0

His Third Time in Office Could Be the Charm

Nawaz Sharif addresses an election rally in Islamabad May 5, 2013.
Nawaz Sharif addresses an election rally in Islamabad May 5, 2013. (Mian Khursheed / Courtesy Reuters)

On May 11, an estimated 60 percent of Pakistan’s 86 million registered voters cast ballots to pick a new government. Election day, like the entire campaign season, was marred by deadly Taliban attacks, mostly at the rallies of avowedly secular parties. And some charges of voter fraud have darkened the proceedings. Still, the election was a democratic achievement worth celebrating: in a country where the military has aborted every democratic transition, this weekend marked the first turnover from one democratically elected government that has served its full five-year term to another.

As expected, the incumbent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) was routed, effectively reduced to its traditional ethnic stronghold in Sindh province. After five years in power, the PPP government was too tainted by allegations of corruption and poor governance to win the votes of anyone but its most stalwart supporters. In addition, its leadership was virtually unable to campaign in public because of physical threats from the Taliban, which despises the party for supporting the U.S. war on terrorism. Just two days before the vote, armed Islamists allegedly abducted Ali Haider Gilani, the son of former PPP Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, from an election meeting in his hometown of Multan.

Going into the vote, the X-factor was Imran Khan, the former cricketer-turned-political crusader. During the campaign, he relentlessly demonized the PPP for supporting the U.S. war on terrorism and allowing CIA drones to kill innocent civilians. (Of course, he expediently ignored the fact that those drones were using Pakistani airspace with the Pakistani military’s collusion.) And he promised to wipe clean the slate of status quo parties, even as he cynically recruited their disaffected members to his own party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). His dazzling promises -- a Pakistan free of corruption within 30 days and of terrorism within 90 days -- were expected to resonate with the Pakistani middle class, which is usually detached from politics. And they did. But not enough where it counted: Punjab, the country’s most politically important province, which holds 148 of the 272 general seats in the national assembly.

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