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The mother of all elections

Everything is still up for grabs in fiercely-contested Pakistan elections
Last modified: 6 May 2013 15:11
Former cricketer Imran Khan has gained popularity in the election run up [EPA]

In Pakistan more than 80 million people are registered voters. If the past is anthing to go by, at least half of them are likely to cast their votes in the upcoming elections.

But things have changed, and now people expect the largest turnout in the country's history despite the threat of violence. They know how crucial these elections are for their future and nothing will stop them.

A few weeks ago everyone in Pakistan was talking about a hung parliament in the May 11 elections, but days before the polls open the situation was very different.

The outgoing coalition partners, who have completed their five years at the country's helm, is already complaining of pre-poll rigging by pointing to the direct threat from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) after the group warned that the leaders of the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Asif Ali Zardari and his son Bilawal, and the Awami National Party (ANP) would be legitimate targets.

TTP also took responsibility for a string of attacks and bombings in the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and the southern port city of Karachi, the economic and financial hub of the country.

Calm in Punjab

There is relative calm in the most populous and pivotal province, Punjab, and the situation has been fairly quiet and violence free, providing an opportunity for the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf, or PTI, led by former cricketing hero Imran Khan, to take advantage of the situation and arrange large rallies across the province.

Because of his stand against US drone attacks, Khan is not on the TTP hit list and has been on a campaign marathon, flying from one end of the country to another in a helicopter.

Another party taking full advantage is the Muslim League's Nawaz faction, or the PML-N.

The two-time former prime minister and his brother, who is also the outgoing chief minister of Punjab, have gained points according to various polls around the country.

However, the tussle between Khan and the Sharif brothers may cause more harm to the PML-N and perhaps even play into the hands of the PPP and other allies.

The religious parties, on the other hand, have no issues with holding large rallies and have also gained some strength in the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province.

They would play a pivotal role in any future peace talks with the TTP and as such are not on TTP's selective targeting list.

Stakes are high

Elsewhere, in Balochistan province, fighting for an independent homeland attacked political leaders and warned them not to take part in the elections.

To the backdrop of all these problems, everyone realises the stakes are high and acknowledges importance of the elections.

If Saddam Hussein was alive, he would call it the mother of all elections, but Pakistan is not Iraq, at least not yet, and large numbers of people are expected to come out and vote, despite the security threats.

It is about the future of Pakistan and nothing less.

The world is watching and everyone is keen to see the outcome of an election that is also the country's first democratic transition of power.

With about 342 seats in the lower house, the magic number for a simple majority is 172 seats.

No one is expected to get a full mandate, which would be two-thirds majority, given the current state of political polarisation in the country.

Conspiracy alleged

The outgoing PPP-led coalition says the Taliban threat is a conspiracy and that right-wing political parties are supporting the TTP.

However, their performance in the past five years has earned them no compliments from the people.

Acute power shortages, the declining value of the local currency, the rupee, which shot up from RS60 against the dollar to RS100, and the mega scandals ranging from rental power plants to the near-collapse of state institutions because of massive and rampant corruption have brought the country to the brink of economic collapse.

No one knows who will win or lose, but for people like Imran Khan, who is promising change, the prospects could not look any better.

But then, this is Pakistan, and there are no pre-arranged scripts to follow.

Everything is up for grabs, and at stake is the future of a country of almost 200 million people in desperate need of a strong leadership and a plan to steer Pakistan out of the eye of the storm.