Nawaz Sharif (above), who was ousted from power by General Parvez Musharrof in 1999 and exiled to Saudi Arabia, is preparing to lead Pakistan for the third time following an weekend election victory.
Initial results showed Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has emerged as the largest party in the parliament, with three times as many seats as each of its two main rivals; Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) of Asif Ali Zardari and the legendary cricketer Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehriq- e- Insaf (PTI).
Although Khan’s PTI won a clear victory in Peshawar and the rest of Khyber- Pakhtunwa region in the northwest and, looked set to be the second largest party, the massive votes could not be translated into parliamentary seats under the country’s first-past-the-post electoral system.
Sharif’s PML-N, on the other hand, made a major dent in Punjab, the province where 60 per cent of voters live and where his support base is anchored.
The secular PPP – led jointly by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and his father and the incumbent President Asif Ali Zardari – is traditionally strong in the Sindh province but lost support due to scandal, corruption and poor governance.
According to the state-run PTV, latest unofficial results showed Sharif’s PML-N leading in 118 of the 272 parliamentary seats up for grab. Although Sharif needs 137 seats for a majority, analysts say his party is likely to get 125 seats in the end and form the government with support of independent candidates and smaller rightist parties like the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam which was ahead in 11 seats, according to last count.
Buoyed by the outcome, Sharif told a jubilant crowd, “We have been given a historic opportunity to serve Pakistan and to change Pakistan. Our program is to change the fate of this country.”
The election was historic in terms of high voter turnout, despite violence resulting in closing of many polling stations and deaths of 38 people. Besides, this is the first time in Pakistan’s history since becoming independent in 1947 that an elected government has completed its tenure and another one is about to take office soon.