Transition of power marks milestone for Pakistan's fragile democracy


With the Pakistani government stepping down on Thursday after completing a rare five-year term, the country is all set for what would be just a second peaceful transition between civilian governments in the country's 70-year history. This in itself is considered a victory for democracy - but a powerful military and an assertive judiciary are seen as keen to undermine the process.

The historic second transition will pave the way for elections in July, something seldom seen in a country whose history is marred by frequent coups and assassinations. Yet some say that the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has been undermined, regardless of its completion of term.

"This is true, that the government is completing its constitutional term, but it did not have the powers and was found helpless many times during the last five years," said Ahmad Bilal Mehboob, from the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT). "We have noticed that the government had been under the influence of institutions," Mehboob said, referring to the country's army.

Near the start of the PML-N's term in power, in 2014, the Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party of cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan protested for a record 126 days, calling for a re-election. Many believe that the army was behind the protests.

The government has taken heavy criticism throughout its tenure, whether on foreign policy issues - particularly on its relations with India - or domestic affairs. "

In these five years, it was said multiple times that the government would fall," Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi said in his farewell address to the national assembly on Thursday. "We have absorbed major external and internal shocks but kept the democratic process ongoing. The next step is free and fair and transparent elections," he said.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif recently accused the chief of a powerful intelligence agency of asking him to step down during opposition protests in 2014. Sharif said he was removed because of his foreign policy and refusal to drop a treason case against former military dictator General Pervez Musharraf.

Pakistan has a host of intelligence agencies but, in the past, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has often been accused of political engineering and meddling in elections. Sharif is seen as the strongest voice against the military's alleged engineering of Pakistan's politics. He was removed as prime minister by the Supreme Court last July on corruption allegations that also involved his children. The same court later removed him as head of PML-N before banning him for life from politics. The party carried on under the new premier.

Analysts say Sharif may have been the target of collusion between the generals and judges due to his demand for civilian supremacy in a country that has been ruled by the army for almost half its existence. "It seems that Sharif's party is singled out and efforts are under way to keep it away from winning a majority in the elections," said analyst Fida Khan.

The upcoming election on 25 July pits Sharif's PML-N against PTI. More than 105 million people, including 59.2 million men and 46.7 million women, are expected to cast their vote. In the meantime, retired former chief justice Nasirul Mulk is to lead the country as caretaker prime minister and oversee the elections.

"We hope that democracy will gain strength with continuity of the process," Mehboob said.    (dpa)

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