The concerns raised prior to the election about vote rigging and electoral fraud appear to have been validated by evidence of widespread vote rigging. These elections were by no means “free and fair”. Although disappointing, this was not unexpected. However what was different this time was that the media was on hand to capture images of blatant rigging and transmit them worldwide. This has led to a huge debate about electoral fraud and although international observers estimate rigging to have affected 10% of the vote, the actual figure is probably significantly higher.
The judiciary has been woefully silent on this issue and the Election Commission of Pakistan has not acted as swiftly and comprehensively as it ought to have done. However, what is refreshing is the debate and scrutiny which is being applied by the media and in particular the courage of journalists in revealing what went on in spite of open threats to their safety. This is something which could never have happened previously. The public reaction to this has been surprising too. Whereas in the past, people did not dare to question the results, we now have people taking to the streets peacefully to demand that action is taken against the fraud and re-counting is underway is some areas.
Though not widely reported in the international media, there are huge demonstrations and sit-ins going on in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and many other cities where many people feel their votes were stolen. Moreover, when one looks at those demonstrating, it is not the poor but rather middle and upper-middle class men, women and children who have come out in droves to fight not only for their rights but more so for the rights of the downtrodden, poorer classes who are seldom if ever heard. This is something which I have not previously seen in Pakistan and did not expect. This compassion and empathy is a positive sign for the future social cohesion and wellbeing of the country.
The challenges that lie ahead for the in-coming government are huge; crippling energy shortages, corruption, poverty, law and order breakdown, a broken health system, a rapidly growing gap between rich and poor, debt, terrorism, growing unemployment, sectarianism, attacks against minorities, and foreign policy issues such as the US drone strikes. Yet, in spite of the rigging, violence, intimidation and usual chaos which seem to be part and parcel of Pakistan’s precarious political situation, what is emerging is a greater awareness and willingness to act amongst the public and to no longer be subjugated.