Pakistanis voted this week to elect a new government, with the largest number of seats going to the cricket legend Imran Khan, who appears poised to become the new prime minister.
In a long political history peppered with military coups and martial law, this would have been the second successive transition of power through a constitutional process from one elected government to another in Pakistan. However, political opponents, the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and international observers such as the European Union alleged that irregularities and election rigging occurred in many parts of the country, particularly in rural and urban Sindh and Punjab provinces.
Even as several political parties threatened to boycott parliament, Khan, who enjoys the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military, delivered a victory speech on July 26, pledging that “for the first time, Pakistan's policies won’t be for the few rich people, it will be for the poor, for our women, for our minorities, whose rights are not respected.”
Khan also said his government will investigate allegations of rigging and election manipulation. That’s good – dealing quickly and openly about electoral irregularities will strengthen democratic rule in Pakistan. He has also committed to ensure rule of law and protect religious minorities, and to try and mend ties with neighbors India and Afghanistan.
If Khan lives up to his promises, this could offer fresh hope to a country facing serious economic and security challenges. Thousands of Pakistanis, particularly members of minority communities, have died in militant attacks.
Khan has an opportunity to create a rights-respecting government that can restore the public’s faith in democratic institutions. His government should amend or repeal discriminatory laws against religious minorities and hold accountable all who commit or incite violence in the name of religion. The government should nurture a culture of political tolerance for criticism and free expression. And it should keep its commitment to end gender-based violence and to protect and empower women by revising laws that perpetuate discrimination. For real reform, pledges need to translate into action.