A historic election

Two young PML-N supporters at Imran Khan's consituency in Rawalpindi. Photograph: Samira Shackle

Two young PML-N supporters at Imran Khan’s consituency in Rawalpindi. Photograph: Samira Shackle

On Saturday 11 May, Pakistan went to the polls. It was the country’s first ever democratic transtion from one government to another, and many thought it wasn’t going to happen at all. I spent the day visiting polling stations in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, and the atmosphere was carnivalesque.

I wrote about the election – and the results – for the New Statesman:

On Saturday 11 May, Pakistan went to the polls, and the mood was jubilant. The international headlines may have described this as an election “marred by violence”, but in much of the country, it was like a giant street party. In Rawalpindi, young men with party colours tied around their head, Rambo-style, cruised around the streets, cheering, and jokingly exchanging insults with rival party supporters. People, from old to young, turned out in their droves to cast their votes, many for the first time, producing the highest voter turnout since the 1970s. In many areas, the queues at the women’s’ voting section were far longer than the men’s.

Imran Khan, the wildcard candidate, didn’t come close to winning, a disappointment many had predicted. A week before the election,  I went on the campaign trail with his team, and wrote about it for the NS:

It’s 7pm on a hot Sunday evening and I’m standing at a barbed wire barricade. Behind me is crowd of disgruntled but enthusiastic Imran Khan supporters, and in front of me some very uncooperative policeman. I’m in Faisalabad, Pakistan, trying to catch Khan on his whistle-stop tour of Pakistan.

In the preceding eight days, he has appeared at more than 50 jalsas (rallies) across the country, travelling by helicopter so he can visit up to three or four – sometimes more – sites in a day. These barnstorming rallies are the cornerstone of his campaign. Khan, with his celebrity status, charisma, and huge personal fan base, knows that he is the main attraction of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, and he’s making sure he gives the people what they want.

Nawaz Sharif emerged victorious. I wrote a column for the June issue of Prospect magazine about his victory:

As the dust settles and the new government forms, the two key challenges are the flagging economy and, of course, the security situation. The election campaign saw more than 130 political workers killed in Taliban attacks. Secular, liberal parties were unable to campaign openly at all. Others, like Sharif’s PML-N, held huge rallies with sound systems and live tigers.

On election day (11 May), I provided commentary for both Sky News and BBC News Channel.

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