x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Pakistan's vote is a victory for all to celebrate

Pakistan's election, with its high turnout and clear result, is good news for almost everyone ¿ except the Taliban.

Few Pakistanis can have been happier yesterday than Nawaz Sharif. As vote-counting continued following elections on Saturday, Mr Sharif's party was poised to win about 130 of the 272 contested seats in the National Assembly; he can expect to be prime minister of Pakistan once again - for a third time.

The last time he held the job, things ended badly: he was deposed in a 1999 military coup, convicted on a slew of charges, narrowly escaped execution and was exiled. Vindication by ballot must be sweet.

In another sense, all Pakistanis can celebrate this election. Never before has one civilian government succeeded another in Pakistan, and as we said here last week, only democracy offers hope of the compromises so essential to stability and progress. The jubilant voting-day headline in the newspaper Dawn told the story: The finest hour: Election day.

Further, almost 60 per cent of eligible voters actually cast ballots, many after long waits to do so. This turnout compares well with that in other countries; the US presidential election of 2012 had a 57.5 per cent turnout, for example; in India's 2009 general election 59.7 per cent voted. Turnout in Pakistan five years ago was 44 per cent.

But unlike those elections, this one went on under the overt and much-publicised threat of polling-place bombings by the Pakistani Taliban, which knows it is weaker when it faces a strong government armed with democratic legitimacy. This robust turnout and fairly clear result add up to a real setback for the forces of terrorism.

Imran Khan, in one sense the loser Saturday, can also take some satisfaction in the result, if unofficial results are confirmed. While he fell short of winning power, his PTI party finished a strong second, shattering the stale duopoly of Mr Sharif's PML-N and the PPP that formed the outgoing government. His party won urban middle-class support but also took power in the north-west frontier province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

In parliament, the PPP now slips to third place; Mr Khan with his new-broom image promises to be a politician with a future, and an opposition leader capable of inhibiting the corruption that marred Mr Sharif's two previous administrations.

The next question is how Mr Sharif will handle power this time. Stock markets climbed last week in anticipation of his victory; he is seen as business-friendly but must also find ways to help the poorest. He hopes to improve relations with India but in that will have to cajole the very Pakistani military establishment that once deposed him.

Soon enough, the jubilation will subside and the hard slog of governing will begin. But this election and its result have both generated hope in a country which needs all of that it can get.