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.


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.

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.

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.   


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

Video Getting to Zero AIDS Infections

More than 35 million people around the world are infected with HIV, a disease that is both preventable and treatable

Children, Childhoods Lost in European Refugee Crisis

According to UNICEF, 190,000 children applied for political asylum in Europe in the first 9 months of this year - twice as many as last year

What Happened When I Landed in Antarctica

Refael Klein chronicles what it's like to visit one of the coldest, most desolate places on Earth

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs