News / Asia

Pakistan's Parliament Nears Milestone

Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani speaks during parliament session in Islamabad May 9, 2011.
Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani speaks during parliament session in Islamabad May 9, 2011.
Ayaz Gul
Parliamentary elections in Pakistan are expected between March and May 2013. They would mark the first time in the nation’s history that a democratically-elected government completed its full term and transferred power to a successor.  Previous elected governments have either been deposed in military coups or dismissed by presidents allied with the powerful army.

Transition

Pakistan’s National Assembly - the lower house of parliament, and the four provincial legislatures are likely to be dissolved on or before March 18, when they all complete their five-year constitutional terms.
 
Neutral caretaker governments will then take the democratic transition forward by preparing for national elections.
 
Ministers in the coalition government, headed by Pakistan People’s Party or PPP, have indicated voters may go to polls as early as May.
 
A central PPP leader and federal minister for defense, Naveed Qamar, says he is confident the democratic process in Pakistan will proceed as planned.

“I see the government completing its term and the assemblies coming to an end [March 18], a caretaker [government] being appointed in consultation with the opposition and elections being held within a period of 60 days,” Qamar said.
 
Obstacles

Widespread optimism on the smooth democratic transition notwithstanding, escalating political violence in the country’s biggest city, Karachi, continued Baloch nationalist insurgency in the resource-rich Baluchistan province and the ongoing Taliban-led militant violence in the northwest do pose serious challenges to the upcoming elections in Pakistan.

Critics fear that continued violence could derail the reform momentum and impact the integrity of the elections.
 
"“There is a lot of uncertainty gripping the Pakistani political mind," noted Ayaz Amir, who represents the main opposition Pakistan Muslim League or PML-N party in the parliament.  "The law and order situation in Karachi, the law and order situation in Baluchistan, the [recent] wave of terrorism, which have struck [northwestern] Peshawar and other military installations. That is sowing doubts in people's minds whether the elections will be held on time."
 
The assassination of a top Pakistani politician in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on December 22 has been the latest blow to political campaigning in a region where Taliban militants have killed hundreds of political activists for opposing the Islamists.
 
Observers fear that the spate of targeted killings may force anti-Taliban liberal parties such as the Awami National Party to limit electioneering. This they say could impact the credibility of the polls.
 
Optimism

But despite the surge in militant violence, observers believe the introduction of key election reforms and measures taken to ensure credibility of the future election have brought about cautious optimism among many political actors that the progress toward democratic governance in the country will continue.
 
Sandra Houston, Pakistan's director for National Democratic Institute, says that political parties this time around have been cooperating with one another in a manner rarely seen and are constantly engaged in consultation with the election commission on the adoption of electoral rules.

“I think that there is a real willingness amongst all of the parties and civil society and the election commission to ensure that there is a following of the rules and that there is such a level of cooperation amongst all those parties that I think the election will be considerably different,” she said.

Many local and foreign observers also praise and consider the new national list of 85 million voters to be the most accurate to date. Bogus votes in previous elections have helped some political parties maintain their dominance, casting doubts on the credibility of the process.   

Economy

Adverse economic conditions, crippling inflation and acute power shortages are also likely to be major issues in the upcoming elections.
 
The ruling coalition is already facing widespread public resentment for failing to provide relief on these fronts. Corruption within the state institutions is another simmering issue.
 
The chairman of the anti-corruption watchdog, Fasih Bokhari, said in early December that Pakistan loses up to $72 million every day to inefficiency, corruption and tax evasion by the affluent.

“On a daily basis there is a large volume of corruption and drainage of financial resources of Pakistan,” noted Bokhari.

But despite all the criticism, Ahmed Bilal Mehboo of the pro-democracy non-governmental organization called ‘PILDAT’ does not rule out the possibility of the current ruling elite returning to power, albeit with a split mandate
 
“That will be because of the divisions in the forces, which are arrayed against them. If they are trying to contest against each other, as they are, then they would be dividing their votes themselves,” Mehboo said.
 
Some observers believe that the ruling PPP party could benefit from the emergence of cricket-star-turned politician Imran Khan’s political party as a third major force on national scene in recent years.
 
Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf or PTI has gained popularity because of its harsh criticism of former Prime Minister Nawaz Shairf’s PML-N party, which rules the country’s most populous province of Punjab and is the main opposition party in the national parliament.
 
Analysts say the rivalry could deprive Sharif’s party of crucial votes, largely to the benefit of the current ruling party headed by President Asif Ali Zardari.

In the past, Pakistan’s powerful military almost always influenced the electoral process in favor of its political allies. But observers believe the rise of a fiercely independent judiciary and private electronic media outlets have limited the military's predominance in the electoral process.

Another major factor that preoccupies the army is the continued religious, sectarian and ethnic violence in various parts of the country. This has clearly eroded the once mighty military's authority.

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festivali
X
April 24, 2015 4:09 AM
Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video Keeping Washington Airspace Safe Is Tall Order

Being the home of all three branches of the U.S. federal government makes Washington, D.C. the prime target for those who want to make their messages and ideas heard. Unfortunately, many of them choose to deliver them in unorthodox ways, including from the air, as a recent incident clearly showed involving a gyrocopter landing on the Capitol’s West Lawn. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.

VOA Blogs