Pakistan’s verdict

A few hours into the election, and a suicide blast rocked Quetta, claiming the lives of many more innocent countrymen. But the flood of people outside the polling stations — in the blast-hit Quetta too — indicates the vigour and valour of a nation out to elect its rulers for the next five years. The midday blast hardly had any effect on the undaunted and undeterred voters who lined up in long serpentine queues, almost in the entire country, to exercise their right to franchise. Such was the enthusiasm to have the voice of vote heard that a large number of female voters gathering at a constituency in Faisalabad caused the roads in the surroundings blocked. For women, the election also brought a historic first when they cast vote for the first time in Upper Dir district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

More than anything or anybody else, it’s the media — electronic media in particular — that deserves praise for a visibly-mobilised electorate. The media — appearing clearly divided on political lines — may not have performed its role of a watchdog properly, but its non-stop telethons and public service messages did have a huge contribution to the unusual hordes of enthusiastic voters approaching the polling booths. Such was the mobilisation that despite an hour already added to the polling time this election, almost all the parties wanted the voting time to be extended by one more hour — but only to receive a no by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

However, the polling day violence — too typical of a Third World country — spanned across all the four provinces, despite the presence of no less than eight hundred thousand security personnel. Besides the blast-hit Quetta, the areas that made headlines included Lahore, Swabi, Mardan, Khuzdar, Naseerabad, Rajanpur, Larkana and Shikarpur which witnessed incidents of firing, grenade attack, cracker blast, stone pelting and fist-fighting. The death count stood at three at least — including a policeman — with the number of those injured running into dozens. This is apart from the three security personnel martyred late on Tuesday while foiling an attempted attack at the polling staff. The figures of casualties and injuries would fit the description of “by and large peaceful”, if it were not for the Quetta suicide attack that alone accounted for more than 30 lives. Pleasantly surprising though was the fact that the traditional allegations of rigging by party candidates and their supporters against their rivals were not heard of, at least during the nine hours of polling. And that indeed happened due to the presence of uniformed personnel in and outside the polling stations.

With the polling done and results starting to trickle, the Imran Khan-led PTI appears on course to turn the tables on the PML-N at the Centre. However, whosoever is elected to govern this 207-million-strong nation, what’s important is that the results should be accepted and the mandate of the people respected. The country cannot afford to see the losing side embark on the protest route post-election the way the PTI had done the last time, given the numerous serious challenges it is faced with — both internally and externally.

Coming back to where we started: a notable turnout of people — something that the election commission also mentioned in its initial, unofficial assessment — demonstrated the nation’s strength to exercise their constitutional right and let the world know that Pakistan is a peaceful democratic state which defied all odds and paved the way for another successful democratic transition.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 26th, 2018.

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Says contesting elections from Quetta too as its people have given much respect

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