The thumping majority that Nawaz Sharif has secured in the polls have given Pakistanis hope of things to improve in the days to come. While Sharif’s success has largely been as a result of a whitewash in Punjab province, he has also received pockets of support in other provinces.
More interesting has been how well the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has performed given this is the first time it has seriously participated in the polls. Other older parties like Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party, PML-Q, Jamat-e-Islami and Jamiat-Ulema-Islam Fazlur Rehman have all suffered setbacks.
Another highlight has been the record turnout of over 60% voters, largely because of women and first-time voters. However, the tasks before Sharif are many, which will require more than a decisive majority in Parliament to solve. These include jump starting the economy and fighting terrorism, but there are other areas of concern.
How effective will be the Sharif government?
With a two thirds majority almost assured, the Sharif government returns to the political position it was following the 1997 polls. Given that the party will command both the governments at the centre and in the Punjab province, the largest state in the country, it will be in a position to take important decisions. This will make it a much more effective government than the PPP-led coalition government. That government had the centre but not Punjab, and depended on allies even in the two provincial assemblies that it held, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
It is expected that Sharif will work towards reforming the economy and attracting foreign investment. However, the challenge, if any, will come from President Asaf Ali Zardari who may want to thwart the Sharif government. Another threat will be from General Pervaz Kayani. The army is wary of Sharif’s belief that the status quo in Pak politics must change; the army chief must now be subservient to the elected PM.
Will Imran Khan emerge as the main opposition leader?
As things stand, the PTI leads the PPP in Parliament by a slender majority. So, Khan may not be the opposition leader. If the PPP and the MQM become callies in Sindh, they will have an understanding at the centre giving the PPP the ability to pick the opposition leader.
“This time the give-and-take will be for the opposition leader and not the leader of the house,” an analyst says. While the PML-N has Punjab, Sindh is with the PPP and the KP may have a provincial government led by the PTI if it can form a coalition. Given its mixed bag of MPs, the PML-N may form a government in Balochistan. However, given the distaster for the PPP, Khan could still position himself as an alternative to Sharif if he can send a credible message.
How will the mullahs and the military take this poll result?
The military has been cautious with the result. While the army chief has said the military supports democracy and has given the poll panel the muscle to conduct fair polls, Sharif has been unhappy with statements by the army chief about advocating talks with Taliban. With the retirement of the army chief later this year, Sharif may want to appoint his own man and it may cause friction with the military. Another issue is US drone attacks, which the army supports but the public abhors. Sharif may be caught in between. If this continues, Taliban will resume its attacks, which in turn may affect Pakistan’s chances of economic recovery and law and order. Traditionally, religious parties have supported Sharif who has been in favour of sharia ed laws.