Good luck, Pakistan

| Today’s vote will change country like never before

Islamabad - Despite all uncertainties, conspiracy theories and apprehensions, we are finally here: The Election Day.

It has been one hell of a ride. The political tumult and instability of the past couple of years were dizzying. The run-up to the election was incredibly messy and controversial. The spate of attacks hung like a dark, ominous cloud over the campaign trail. Allegations of meddling and ‘political engineering’ have already robbed today’s would-be winner of some of the sweet taste of victory. However, the fact that Pakistanis will exercise their right to vote and the country would complete its second democratic transition is nonetheless a positive sign.

Whether Imran Khan and the passionate supporters of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, PTI, finally manage to win the national election will be known by late evening today.

Winning a thumping majority would be nothing but a spectacular and stunning victory for the former world-famous cricketer-turned-politician, who writhed on the political wilderness for decades. The widespread impression that the ‘powers that be’ have fixed the match for Imran Khan has not bothered his supporters. A vast swathe of the urban, educated middle-class population has blindly pinned hopes with ‘the Captain.’

The burden of expectation and the desire for change is tremendous. Fulfilling these dreams and aspiration will not be easy. Governance is not a cakewalk in a country like Pakistan. The challenges staring at the face of today’s winner are staggering. A massive economic crisis is just around the corner. Geopolitical compulsions add to the complexity. The civil-military imbalance is a reality.

Those who expect that removal of either of the two mainstream political parties from the power scene will miraculously solve the country’s myriad of problems are in for a rude surprise. However, obstacles and impossibilities have never dimmed the idealism and passion of Khan’s supporters.

The former ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, PML-N, is battered and bruised. The grueling confrontation with the security establishment has been ugly and debilitating. However, the return of Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz did infuse new energy and lifted the morale of the party. PML-N has remained resilient and defied expectations of falling like a pack of cards once Nawaz Sharif was ousted and barred from holding public office. Whether PML-N manages to defy further hopes of an electoral defeat in its heartland would become evident in just a few hours. Punjab’s voter has spurned picking a fight with the establishment in the past, and traditionally the Pakistani voter has opted to go with the side that has looked like winning. Will Punjab overturn this impression and go with the underdog has remained one of the most intriguing aspects of the current election.

The campaign trail saw the emergence of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari as a bright political prospect. He sounded humane and empathetic. He resisted mixing his political messaging with abuse and vitriol. He did not shy from going through the grind and grime of campaigning. Bilawal as a member of the parliament will be someone to watch out for. Pakistan Peoples Party is picking its pieces from the gigantic mess it turned into back in 2008. However, it has a long way to go to reclaim its past glory.

While continuity of democracy - no matter how hobbled - should be welcomed, concerns about growing sets of regulation, which feel like censorship, are mounting. The overarching role of the security establishment has received much criticism. The military has vigorously denied the allegations. Let’s hope that the next government is not caught in the vicious circle of civil-military tensions and power games.

Even though Imran Khan failed to create the kind of wave that had catapulted him before the 2013 general elections, it seems that his party retains a fair chance of emerging as the single largest party. Having a supermajority will make things easier for Imran Khan. However, all bets are off if an alliance has to be stitched up.

The crisis of legitimacy is likely to affect 2018 general elections in ways far worse than the controversy of 2013 votes. Whoever wins the election will quickly realize that the winner’s crown is made of nothing but barbwire.

However, today is a day when hope must trump skepticism and cynicism. A high voter turnout can change the entire complexion of the election and predictions.

Go out and vote. Good luck.