Omar Waraich: Nawaz Sharif’s election victory inspires new hope for Pakistan


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The Independent Online

It was one of history’s astonishing turns. In 1999, Nawaz Sharif was overthrown in a military coup. He was thrown behind bars, along with his brother and other ministers.

Now, nearly 14 years later, he is set to become Pakistan’s first third-time Prime Minister while the man who overthrew him, General Pervez Musharraf, is under house arrest.

Mr Sharif’s impressive election result has inspired hopes. In the cities of Punjab, voters said the reason why they were going to the polls was to register their rage at up to 20 hours of power outages a day. They hope Mr Sharif, a businessman with a stolid reputation for administration, will also boost the economy that has lost up to 5 per cent of economic growth each year owing to the energy crisis.

He will also be the most powerful Prime Minister Pakistan has had in more than a decade, with a majority in the national parliament and a two-thirds majority in the most populous and wealthiest province, Punjab. Constitutional reforms passed by the last administration have restored to the Prime Minister the powers Mr Musharraf snatched from the office. Later this year, three of the men running Pakistan will step down. Asif Ali Zardari is a lame-duck President without a supportive government run by his Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Mr Sharif can have his own nominee elected in September. The powerful chief justice and army chief are retiring this winter and their replacements will be weaker.

But Mr Sharif’s majority poses problems for Pakistan. During the bloody election campaign, the smaller provinces were under constant attack, where the Taliban killed more than 100 secular politicians and their supporters. In Punjab, Mr Sharif’s native province that has over half of parliament’s seats, elections were peaceful.

The results show that Pakistan’s parties have become regional forces. Mr Sharif swept Punjab. Imran Khan took the highest number of seats in the north-west Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Mr Zardari’s PPP held on to Sindh. And Baloch nationalists are expected to win in Baluchistan. This will create a dangerous imbalance between the wealthiest, most populous province and the rest.

Domestic terrorism is another complaint among voters. Mr Sharif has said he’d prefer to negotiate with the Taliban, a tactic that has failed several times in the past and encouraged more militancy.