Nawaz Sharif, the deposed former prime minister and conservative politician set to take over as Pakistan’s next civilian leader, met with army leader General Ashfaq Kayani for three hours on Saturday. Representatives of Sharif’s political party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N), characterized the meeting as a “good omen for democracy.” Pakistan’s influential military, which deposed Sharif in a bloodless coup 14 years ago, seems to be more supportive of a democratically elected civilian government after last week’s election.
While the government has not announced official election results, state media estimates the PLM-N may have won enough votes to rule the 272 seats in the National Assembly without a coalition. However, Sharif’s views could be affected by army influence after he gains power. The political party of former cricket player Imran Khan’s Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) is expected to come in second place, with the slain Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party trailing in third.
Former prime minister and head of the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) Nawaz Sharif waves to supporters after his party victory in general election in Lahore on May 11, 2013. (Photo: AFP)
Even with the army’s support and a relatively clear winner, violence continued to scar the election process: the Pakistani Taliban launched targeted assassinations of moderate candidates and members of other religious sects. Voter intimidation was not uncommon. In total, over 130 people across the country were killed in election-related violence. Nevertheless, over 55% of eligible voters turned out at the pools, almost 10 percent more than previous elections over the past 15 years.
During his campaign, Sharif discussed various ways to grow Pakistan’s ailing economy and provide increased security at home and abroad. He will likely promote free market policies similar to those he enacted in 1997. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) will also watch the new government closely as they begin negotiations over a $9 billion loan to solve their foreign currency reserve crisis. In terms of security, Sharif called for an end to Islamabad’s involvement in the US-led “war on terror” and promoted a policy of peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. On the issue of India, independent-minded Sharif has promoted closer trade and political ties than Pakistan’s generals appear comfortable with.
Few missed the former prime minister after General Pervez Musharraf took power in the 1999 coup. But times have changed, even in a country wracked by international strife and economic collapse, Pakistanis appear to see new potential in a military-supported civilian government under Sharif.