The polls have closed and the vote counting has begun in a historic election in Pakistan. If all proceeds well, this will mark the first transition of power from one civilian government to another since the founding of Pakistan 66 years ago. The election season has not been without constant insecurity and violence. Chaudhry Zulfiqar Ali, a prominent prosecutor, was gunned down on his way to court in Rawlpindi last week. He had been prosecuting numerous high-profile terrorism cases, including some linked to the assassination of former Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. Sadiq Zaman Khattak and his son were also gunned down in Karachi last week, while leaving a mosque. Khattak was a candidate for the National Assembly from the Awami National Party, a liberal, anti-Taliban party. Explosions and shootings across the country in the days and weeks leading up to the election killed and injured many. Pakistan’s Interior Ministry expelled New York Times journalist Declan Walsh, one of the best western journalists in Pakistan, on charges of “undesirable activities.” The day of the election was not entirely peaceful or smooth either:
- In Karachi, 11 people were killed in the bombing of a political office and voting was halted at 42 polling places and the votes there will have to be re-run.
- Seven people were injured in a bombing in Peshawar
- Clashes between two rival groups in Chaman killed three and injured more
- An explosion in Mardan injured four
- Further explosions were reported in Quetta and Peshawar
Despite this, the Election Commission authorities said they were expecting a high turnout, between 60 and 80 percent, a dramatic increase from the 44 percent turnout in 2008. Preliminary results seem to indicate that the turnout was quite high and, though there have been allegations of vote tampering in Karachi, the election has proceeded freely and fairly in other areas of the country. This election, though not perfect, shows the important progress being made in Pakistan. Democracy is not easy. It is much more than a ballot box. True democracy is difficult and can take years of struggle to achieve. But this election, which so many people in Pakistan have sacrificed to be a part of, despite the threat of violence and the warnings from the Taliban, lays the foundation for that culture of democracy. It shows the courage and determination of the Pakistani people and their desire to move forward as one, democratic state.