It seems like every single political commentator (which these days is most of Pakistan) was wrong about the elections being heavily rigged.
To be fair, there was a massive and transparent attempt at rigging by the outgoing government, and it would have been enough if the results had been closer – but the difference is so vast in the actual polling results that the rigging was just not enough! Now, if this was Florida where the state was evenly divided, a little bit of rigging would have done the job, as we saw in the US – but Musharraf’s party underestimated the extent to which they are disliked.
Elections are messy in Pakistan – all the parties try to rig the elections in their favour, it’s just that they employ cruder methods than in more developed countries. It seems like everyone was rigging, but it seems to have canceled itself out.
One really big change, which no had predicted, let along even thought of, is the level of interest people took in the elections this time. Sure, turnout was low, but many ‘regular’ people volunteered for election watch duty, and besides that, I’ve heard from many polling stations that people just randomly turned up to keep an eye on things, armed with cellphone cameras and the numbers of the local media. Yes, there were a few hundred foreign observers, but there are just too many polling stations – it was the observing of the many thousands of Pakistani’s who just turned up to observe which was key.
I didn’t volunteer for elections watch, but the three hours I spent “trying to vote”:http://ko.offroadpakistan.com/2008/02/my_voting_experience_in_the_2008_el.html I kept snapping pictures of the process – and no one said anything. This in itself is a sea change in Pakistan – just the last elections if you tried to do that you would be beaten up, the camera smashed, and worse.
It looks like the richest man in Pakistan (Asif Zardari) will be duking it out with the soon to be second riches man in the country, Nawaz Sharif for the Prime Minister’s job.
Both are unsavory characters – even Zardari’s supporters, and there are precious few, his friends, polo buddies, fellow car enthusiasts, and just about everyone else, openly admit that he is a multibillionaire in US dollars. Nawaz, in his two turns as PM, ran Pakistan like Al Capone would have run Chicago as Mayor.
They key thing here though is not that they’re crooks, it’s that this time around, they were voted in – they’ll have to cleanup their acts somewhat and get some things done.
They are both pretty competent – even stealing a billion dollars takes some level of skill, which is preferably to a well intentioned person like Musharraf who just couldn’t ever see beyond his own big boots.
Both of the winning parties have promised to restore the judiciary – that alone makes them infinitively better than Musharraf. Whether they actually do so is another matter, but there will be a heck lot of pressure on them to follow through with their repeated promises.