Are five years of democracy enough? | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 13.03.2013
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Are five years of democracy enough?

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is Pakistan's first democratically elected government to stay in office for a full five-year term. How effective it has been in bringing democracy to the country will soon be seen.

Democracy has remained a frail institution since the inception of the Pakistani state in 1947. In its 66 years of existence, Pakistan has been mostly ruled by military dictatorships - four, to be exact. Despite a number of controversies, the present Pakistani People's Party (PPP) government will be the first in Pakistan to complete its full term in office, which ends on March 16, 2013.

Yousuf Raza Gilani took the oath as the 17th prime minister of Pakistan in 2008. He is the first prime minister in Pakistani history to see five budget proposals passed by the House.

Pakistan's struggles

Gilani's term in office began at a critical time in Pakistan's history. The country was in turmoil from within and without. Rising prices of basic commodities, power shortages and a worsening law and order situation were the main problems affecting both the lives of the common people and the economy. The party itself was in the middle of a leadership vacuum after the assassination of its leader, Benazir Bhutto, at the end of 2007, while the death of Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti in Balochistan had been strengthening separatist sentiments in the province.

Supporters of Pakistan Defense Council, a coalition of Islamic parties, burn a representation of a US flag at rally to condemn the reopening of the NATO supply line to neighboring Afghanistan, in Quetta, Pakistan in 2012. (Photo: Arshad Butt/AP/dapd)

Anti-US sentiment has flared up in Pakistan

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, known until 2010 as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), was practically lost to militants, with the government's reputation at its lowest ever in Pakistani history. The Pakistani army and other security forces were literally in a state of war against the Pakistani people in their war on terror.

The judiciary was struggling for its rights as an institution while many judges were incarcerated. The media, on the other hand, struggled to maintain its freedom in a country with a history of intolerance towards free thought and expression.

In an interview with DW, Gilani spoke about the achievements of his party during its five years in office. The Supreme Court of Pakistan convicted Gilani of contempt of court in April 2012 and he had to leave office after being disqualified from parliament.

War on terror

Gilani cited the completion of the five-year term, the search for solutions to provincial problems, the empowerment of women and other related issues, as the major achievements of his government.

"The biggest achievement of the Pakistan People's Party is that it is the first democratic government in 65 years of Pakistani history that will be completing its tenure. The world is anxiously waiting that we should transfer power to the next government and the transition should be smooth and in a democratic manner," Gilani said.

The former prime minister named examples of his government's struggle to deal with important national issues like estrangement of the constituent units from the federation and law and order made worst through Taliban militancy. Pakistan's contribution to the war on terror and the rehabilitation of the internally displaced people of Swat Valley within 90 days of the inception of the government are two of the examples.

"We made tremendous sacrifices for the peace and prosperity of the entire world, fighting against extremism and terrorism," he said.

PPP successes

The former prime minister also spoke about his party's struggle to empower the country's women during his government.

People read the morning newspapers with headline story of Pakistan's former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination, at a newspapers stall in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on Friday, Dec. 28, 2007. (AP Photo/Anjum Naveed)

The murder of Benazir Bhutto has yet to be fully explained

When asked how his government sees itself after its five-year term, he said that despite the numerous problems it had inherited from the previous government, there were enough initiatives in place to show that things have changed for the best. But he also said that the people of the country were not patient enough to see these initiatives grow to their full potential.

"We have given food security to the people of Pakistan through the Benazir Income Support Program. We have given a lot of incentives to people who are poor," he said.

Experts in and on Pakistan see things differently, though. Britta Petersen, director of the Islamabad office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation (HBS), said the PPP was a "mixed bag." She said it was a "great victory for democracy in Pakistan" that the government will have completed its term in office, and agreed the government had made progress regarding initiatives for women rights, climate change and even food security.

"But the problem for all these pages of legislation is that they are waiting for implementation," Petersen told DW. "And here the problem really starts. The security situation has rather declined." Referring to a Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) report, Petersen said sectarian violence had risen considerably, namely by 53 percent in 2012.

Bleak outlook

In addition, Petersen pointed out that the PPP did not enjoy a particularly good reputation among the people of Pakistan. According to a survey carried out by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) with the support of the HBS, "56 percent of people who were asked believe that the PPP is the most corrupt party in Pakistan. People have lost confidence in this government on a large scale and I haven't even mentioned the rampaging economic and energy crises."

Summing up the PPP's achievements and failures raises the question of what comes next. The PPP leader said he was unsure how the elections would turn out and avoided the question. Petersen, on the other hand, did have an answer. She said she was not very optimistic about the outcome of the election and the political atmosphere she expects will come of it. To her, like many other experts on Pakistani politics, "looking into the crystal ball" was not easy in the case of Pakistan.

The recent SDPI survey found that the PPP was still the most popular political party, despite the fact that most of the respondents considered it the most corrupt. None of the major parties are likely to win a clear majority in the elections, according to the report. The PPP is likely to be in the forefront with 29 percent of votes, closely followed by the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and then by former cricketer Imran Khan's reformist Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

Men work near the damaged building after a bomb blast in a residential area, a day earlier, in Karachi March 4, 2013. (Photo: Reuters/Athar Hussain)

The number of attacks inside Pakistan has risen considerably

Even if the results ultimately differ, there is no doubt Pakistan could end up with an even weaker government than before - at a time in its history when it badly needs a strong government.

The country's present situation is far worse than it was five years ago before the PPP started its term. The economic crisis is worse, law and order has deteriorated further and the upcoming withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014 will most definitely have an effect on Pakistan's security as well.

"The next Pakistani government will definitely be a weak government because it will depend on other coalition partners," Petersen said, adding that the problem with potential coalition partners is that they will be likely to act in their own interest.

"It is very unlikely Pakistan will get a strong government. It will get a weak government and that is definitely a worry."

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