Pakistan welcomes 'the day of the tiger'

Now the elections are over in Pakistan, the real hard work is to begin in earnest for Nawaz Sharif and his PML-N party.

    Pakistan welcomes 'the day of the tiger'
    PML-N supporters celebrated the election victory of Nawaz Sharif late into the night [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]

    Lahore, Pakistan - There is a strange stillness to the air in Lahore, as results from Pakistan's historic election continue to trickle in.

    The bloodiest election campaign in the country's recent history is now over, and though results are still preliminary, one thing is clear: this day belongs to the tiger - the symbol of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N party.

    "Through this vote and campaign I have felt how much love Pakistan has for me. And I have twice as much love for you," Sharif shouted on election night to a crowd of hundreds at the party's Lahore headquarters, in what was, for all intents and purposes, a victory speech for Pakistan's presumptive next prime minister.

    "Thank god that he has given us the chance to help you, to help Pakistan, to help the young people. We will fulfill all the promises that we have made."

    Thank god that he has given us the chance to help you, to help Pakistan, to help the young people. We will fulfill all the promises we have made.

    Nawaz Sharif, PML-N leader 

    Sharif, speaking to a crowd of jubilant party supporters, who cheered his every sentence, said that his party was taking control of the country at a critical time, and that the people "must make a decision to change [Pakistan]".

    "To all other parties, I say come and sit at the table ... not for you or for me, do it for the nation. To finish this loadshedding, these crises, I say come and sit with me."

    And there is no shortage of crises. Pakistan faces a complex mix of economic crisis - fuelled by an acute energy shortage - rising extremism and armed anti-state campaigns by both religious fundamentalists - the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and associated groups - and ethnic separatists in Balochistan.

    "The PPP and ANP lost not because of any ideological problem, but I think on the question of governance and also non-provision of basic facilities or services to the people," said Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based policy analyst. "If the PML-N can address these problems, I think ordinary people will condone [lingering security issues]."

    "But if they can't do either, then I think that this government may not last for five years."

    On the issue of "terrorism", Sharif has repeatedly said that Pakistan has not been fighting its own war, and that if he were elected, he would renegotiate the terms of the Pakistan-US relationship.

    Dr Rizvi said that, when dealing with armed groups, the PML-N has adopted a policy that will require them to deal not just with the US, but with the Pakistan Army as well.

    Hundreds gathered to hear Nawaz proclaim victory
    [Asad Hashim/Al Jazeera]

    Moreover, he argues the party's internal policy on armed extremism is "ambiguous".

    "They have a sympathetic disposition towards different militant groups based in Punjab and the Taliban... they avoid criticism of these groups. They condemn terrorism but never criticise the Taliban. So there is a lot of ambiguity in their position," he told Al Jazeera.

    "But once you're in government, ambiguity cannot be pursued. You need to be definite."

    One of the other primary concerns for Sharif will be the economy - trapped in cyclical balance of payments crises, and with high levels of inflations and unemployment - as well as underemployment - the economy needs both structural changes and "surgical measures" to correct its unbalanced state, said Dr Qais Aslam.

    "The immediate challenge that they are going to face is the budget, because between May 27 and July 1 they have to pass a budget that they have not prepared for," the University of Central Punjab economics professor told Al Jazeera.

    That budget, he says, offers particular challenges, given the party's campaign platform of being both pro-business and pro-poor.

    "On one side, they have to somehow bring down the cost of doing business, but at the same time, energy costs are related to international oil prices. Labour costs, too, are a two-edged sword: on one side they have to please entrepreneurs, on the other side they have to please labourers. Are they going to increase or decrease the minimum wage?"

    Meanwhile, in its three-month term, Pakistan's interim government has been negotiating an emergency agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $5 billion in assistance to address immediate fiscal challenges. That loan, however, comes with conditions attached, which include increasing the amount of tax revenue collected.

    The PML-N has run on a platform promising businesses and industrialists that it would not increase their costs.

    "I think they will have to accept IMF conditions, which means taxing the rich, and I don't know how reluctant they will be to do that," said Dr Aslam.

    "Most of the economic policies that they are going to bring will have to go against their richer electorate, the business community, but some surgical measures will have to be done, otherwise they'll lose their credibility just as the last government did.

    "This isn't about just election promises; this is about creating an economic growth strategy."

    And, through all that, the PML-N will also have to deal with the PTI - a party that gave it a tough time all the way through the election campaign on its past record in government - sitting in parliament as a "strong opposition", as one party leader put it to Al Jazeera.

    "We had expected a better result, but consider that we have nearly 40 seats, it's a big achievement," said Fauzia Kasuri, a founding member of the party, as she watched results coming in at the PTI's campaign headquarters in Lahore late on Sunday night.

    "[Party leader] Imran Khan has created a sense of belonging and participation in people, particularly the youth and women of Pakistan. I think it's a terrific thing for young people.

    "We will be sitting in opposition, and will be a good opposition. There are lots of challenges facing the country. I feel the role of the opposition is as important as that of the government in these circumstances."

    All of those considerations, however - of budget speeches, the role of the opposition, and "ambiguity" on terrorism - are problems to be considered after Sharif's party is able to go over final results and gauge its mandate.

    Today, save the occasional jubilant shout of "Tiger!" on the streets of Lahore, is a day for quiet stillness - for reflecting on a process that has seen 51.7 million people cast their ballots and watch as one civilian, democratically elected government hands over power to another.

    Or, perhaps not.

    Badshah Khan is a 35-year-old cobbler who lives in a closely fought Lahore constituency where Imran Khan was defeated by Ayaz Sadiq, the PML-N's candidate.

    "We don't know anything about governments, or coalitions or any of this," he told Al Jazeera. "We are uneducated. We just know about land, farming and earning a daily wage."

    Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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