US media highlights Pakistan's democratic transition
18 March, 2013
NEW YORK: The completion by Pakistan's first democratically elected government of its full five-year term was prominently featured on Sunday in the American media, which gave credit to President Asif Ali Zardari for the historic achievement.
In a dispatch from Islamabad, The New York Times said, "A peaceful transfer of power to a new government would be a political victory of sorts for President Asif Ali Zardari, who has confounded regular predictions of the demise of his government over the past five years. A good showing by his party in the election may help him win re-election when his terms expires next September."
The Christian Science Monitor said President Zardari has shown "a remarkable ability to hold together a warring coalition government whose members threaten to quit every few months or so. He's also managed a balance between the need for US assistance amid a deteriorating relationship between the two countries and rising anti-American sentiment."
Noting that President Zardari's party was now in negotiations with the opposition to select a caretaker prime minister, The Wall Street Journal said, "The precedent of a civilian government completing its term, and possibly peacefully handing over power to the opposition, should strengthen Pakistan's democracy ..."
The New York Times described as a "crucial development" a statement by army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that he fully supports the elections. Still, a faltering economy and widespread militant violence have left many Pakistanis grumbling about the lack of tangible dividends from democracy, and the Pakistan People's Party's, whose performance has been criticised, will face a challenge from the opposition leader, the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Christine Fair, a South Asia expert who is a professor at Georgetown University's Security Studies Programme, was quoted in the Monitor as saying, "The longer democracy institutionalises, the more bold politicians can be in trying to wrest power away from the army. We're all vested in this election going off freely, fairly and maximising voter turnout, so whatever government emerges is going to be maximally legitimate. And that's exactly the thing that the army fears."
According to the Monitor dispatch, "Pakistan's government passed a major milestone on Saturday, with parliament becoming the first democratically chosen body to finish its term in a country that has faced three military coups and persistent political turmoil." About the achievements of the outgoing government, the Monitor said, "One area where the PPP government has invested a lot of time and effort is the rural sector and helping the poor. Welfare programmes like the Benazir Income Support Programme have handed out small amounts of cash to the country's most impoverished people and given small loans to businesses.
"The government has also tried to help rural communities by boosting the price of certain agricultural commodities, although that has contributed to price hikes in urban areas." As regards the democratic transition taking place, The New York Times said, "The action was a first in a country where the military has regularly ousted civilian governments, either directly through coups or indirectly through constitutional manoeuvres, and it offered hope that the parliamentary system was maturing."
Other personalities and factors are also expected to play a role. The cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has campaigned heavily against corruption and in opposition to American drone strikes, hopes to eat into Sharif's support base in Punjab, which accounts for over half of the 272 elected seats in parliament. Former military ruler Gen Pervez Musharraf has vowed to return from exile on March 24 to contest the election, even though he faces criminal prosecution in court cases related to his rule between 1999 and 2008. And Tahirul Qadri, a preacher who led thousands of supporters into central Islamabad for a protracted sit-in in January, says he will help ensure the integrity of the election.