Voters at a polling station on the outskirts of Islamabad May 11, 2013. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra Pakistan’s national and regional elections Saturday marked the first peaceful transition from one civilian government to another since the country’s founding in 1947.
As expected, Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) party, which held power several times in the 1990s, won a plurality of the National Assembly seats, and is likely to form a government.
But the winners and losers matter less than the historic process. For the first time, the entire nation was galvanized by election fever. A stunning 36 million new voters registered, especially women and young people. Voter turnout was 60 percent compared to 44 percent in 2008. An unprecedented 15,600 people ran for national or regional political office. Many from outside the ranks of Pakistan’s traditional leaders.
I experienced some of this national enthusiasm because I served as an international election monitor in Lahore. (More information on the mission is here.) Our rickshaw driver and tour guide proudly showed us his name on the candidate list. He said he wanted to help create a new Pakistan.
Lahore is Pakistan’s second largest city, and a traditional stronghold of the PML-N. In 15 hours, my team of two men and myself observed 11 polling stations – from wealthy suburban neighborhoods where one gentleman told me he had flown in from his home in West Palm Beach, Florida, to vote – to slums and rural villages outside Lahore’s ring road.