Whoever takes over will need to fight corruption and militancy and support the economy
Security and fairness are paramount as Pakistan heads to the polls
If Pakistan’s election proceeds as planned today, it will constitute only the second transition of power by a civilian government in the country’s troubled history. For the debilitated security services, it is a huge responsibility, with more than 100 million people voting in national and provincial elections.
While the army’s proposal to deploy an unprecedented 370,000 troops on the streets on polling day has been criticised as excessive, the security and safety of voters should be the first priority following a gruelling and bloody campaign, including the deaths of 128 people at an election rally a fortnight ago and fatal attacks on campaign convoys in Bannu and Peshawar.
But assuming today's elections are peaceful and fair, it is their aftermath that will carry the greatest weight for the country’s future.
Whoever wins faces a host of challenges. Amid endemic corruption and militancy, the country’s economy has buckled, despite significant Chinese investment. A looming currency crisis could propel the winner towards the austerity-prone International Monetary Fund, throwing into doubt the narrow favourite Imran Khan’s promise to spend heavily on an “Islamic welfare state”.
Meanwhile, punitive US sanctions and Pakistan's reinstatement on the Financial Action Task Force terror watchlist, due to its failure to sufficiently address extremism, have deepened the economic quagmire.
In addition, the next prime minister will need to strengthen the country’s institutions, address pressing water scarcity and power shortage crises, renovate medical and educational infrastructure and provide opportunities for a new generation of educated young Pakistanis.
Only then can long-term stability be brought to Pakistan. It is a challenge which might be too large for one man to take on, not least because of the role of Pakistan's powerful military, which analysts and the media have accused of undue involvement in the election build-up.
Indeed, the country’s human rights commission has expressed "grave" concern over “blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate the outcome of the upcoming elections”. How today's winner deals with a muscular military establishment will set the tone of his tenure.
But that will come later. Today Pakistanis will vote in what some have called the dirtiest election in decades. It is imperative that voters walk away with confidence and hope that they will be properly represented and have their aspirations met.