A ‘naya’ (new) Pakistan?

Nawaz Sharif addresses a rally on the campaign trail to becoming PM Photo PLMN
By Kiran Hassan, Research assistant, South Asia Programme

Can a third-time prime minister rescue a nation in trouble? This is a question being asked about Nawaz Sharif since his party won the most number of votes in historic elections in Pakistan last weekend.

The poll – in which one elected Pakistani government succeeded another for the first time since independence in 1947 – leaves Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League–N (PML–N) in charge of a country plagued by terrorist attacks, corruption and daily power outages. Sharif has already made it clear that the economy will be his top priority, but his campaign promise to force the United States to cut back drone attacks on Pakistani soil – albeit now softened – remains in the news.

Sharif and the PML–N saw off a plucky challenge by former cricketer Imran Khan and his Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI), and should now be able to govern alone without needing to form a coalition.

Pakistan’s youthful population meant there were 36 million registered new voters among a total 86m; and voter turnout was substantial, at 60%, including a large proportion of women. Although more than 100 people lost their lives in election-related violence, the Taliban failed to significantly disrupt the vote.

However, Sharif’s two previous unpopular terms in the 1990s hang over him, and his party’s victory in this election rests almost entirely on its success in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

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Pakistan’s landmark election may change little

At Tehreek-e-Insaf Lahore Rally 23 March. Photo PTI

By Kiran Hassan, Research assistant, South Asia Programme

Pakistan is heading for an historic election on 11 May, in which one democratically elected government is due to succeed another for the first time in the country’s existence. President Asif Ali Zardari finally called the election on 20 March, after criticism from Imran Khan and other politicians that he was delaying the process. In fact, the PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) government headed by prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf completed its full five-year term on 16 March, necessitating the appointment of a caretaker administration in the run-up to the poll.

Retired senior judge Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, from the strife-torn province of Baluchistan, was sworn in as caretaker prime minister this past Monday. The 84-year-old was chosen by the election commission, after Pakistan’s main political parties failed to agree on a candidate.

The day beforehand Pakistan’s former military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, had flown into Karachi airport after years of self-imposed exile in the UK and the UAE. Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan from 1999 to 2008, intends to run in the upcoming poll. However, he faces conspiracy to murder and other charges in Pakistan, and needed to arrange a ‘protective bail’ order to prevent being arrested upon his return.

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Districts and discord in Kuwaiti politics

Kuwait Parliament

‘Majlis-al-Umma’, Kuwait’s National Assembly building, Kuwait City. Photo Credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons/Leshonai

By Wafa Alsayed, Research Analyst, IISS-Middle East

Last week’s verdict by Kuwait’s highest court, which left existing electoral districts intact, is the latest stage in an ongoing battle between the Kuwaiti government and opposition forces.

For opposition groups, this verdict is a victory. In 2006, the number of electoral districts was reduced from 25 to five, following popular pressure from youth groups and other members of the opposition.  Elections held since the redrawing of districts indicate that the new system favours opposition forces. The previous 25-district system – implemented by the government in 1981 – was regarded as biased against political reform, and too easy for the ruling Al-Sabah family to manipulate.

Both the 2006 redrawing and the latest court ruling were welcomed by opposition groups, but the verdict is unlikely to mark the end of the struggle over Kuwait’s electoral map. Read the rest of this entry »

Somalia: a long road ahead

New MPs pray during the inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia's first parliament in twenty years. (Photo: AU-UN IST/Stuart Price)

New MPs pray during the inauguration ceremony for members of Somalia’s first parliament in twenty years. (Photo: AU-UN IST/Stuart Price)

By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst

Somalia: a long road ahead

Somalia marked an important milestone last week, as it swore in its new and first formal parliament in 20 years, but another key measure of its progress – the selection of a new president – has failed to materialise. Some real progress on its political transition, women’s rights and security has given Somalia an undeniable feeling of optimism and forward momentum. But each area of progress faces old realities: the ‘roadmap’ to transition and the parliament itself are marred by corruption and intimidation, women’s rights face huge challenges from the prevalent political culture, and the al-Shabaab insurgency remains a security threat despite some significant military gains by African Union forces. Somalia’s ability to leave these problems behind decisively depends on the new government – which may not be fully formed for some time. Read the rest of this entry »

Egypt’s eventful presidential election

Salafi Islamists rally in Cairo's Tahrir square protesting the disqualification of Hazem Abu Ismail from Egypt's presidential race (Photo: Jonathan Rashad CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Regional Security, IISS-Middle East

No one expected Egypt’s first ever free presidential election to be boring, but it has turned out to be much more eventful than anyone would have expected. A little more than a month before the first round, Egypt is in major political turmoil. The fate of the revolution and the trajectory of the country are far from certain.

Contrary to what it first announced, the Muslim Brotherhood will field a candidate for the presidency, Khairat al-Shater. The movement’s top strategist and a successful businessman, al-Shater has already launched his campaign, deploying the awesome political machine that has turned the Freedom and Justice Party into the country’s key political player. However, reneging on a major promise after a series of other reversals has made the Brotherhood the target of widespread secular criticism. Al-Shater has reportedly offered clerics an oversight role on legislation which has only deepened concerns about the Brotherhood’s real intentions.  Read the rest of this entry »


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