The headlines in the papers after the elections were exhilarating, invoking new hope after a long, dark period. One, in particular, was very inspiring. “Pakistan, the bravest democracy in the world,” it declared. Truer words were seldom spoken.None of the other nations preaching democracy to us can compare with the challenges faced by us in this process. They have never encountered the type and extent of dangers that threaten both those brave enough to contend elections and the man in the street coming out to vote despite all odds. Perhaps, we can teach them a thing or two.The slogan “Naya Pakistan” initiated by PTI, which inspired new dreams, has now become a slogan for the whole country, for all parties. It is a slogan for the change we need so badly at every level. It is a slogan that has invoked national pride and patriotism once again. It has stirred hope in the business community, in the overseas Pakistanis, in the ordinary citizens. Above all, it has raised the dwindling soul of the youth comprising bulk of the population.Naya Pakistan is here already.Unlike the 2008 elections, smeared with the blood of Benazir, which set the tone and brought out rampaging crowds in the streets, burning and looting, this election was different. Previously, the tragedy of Benazir warped people’s vision. Voter turnout was low and only those came out who voted for a popular but dead leader, ushering in characters of dubious nature that proved all speculations about them more than correct. But this bitter pill that was tolerated for a full term had its advantages. The 2013 elections were the harbinger of change such as never witnessed before. The voter turnout especially of those who had henceforth never voted was historical, for which PTI correctly takes credit. Never before had overseas Pakistanis flown in just to cast their vote, never before had young and old alike experienced the thrill of voting themselves because they felt they must use their democratic right. They felt inspired by their choice and they felt their vote could make a difference.Despite the charges of rigging, the election has raised hopes. Though PTI got lesser seats than expected, the outcome of the election was as expected. It was not a surprise but solid opposition achieved its result by changing the perception of the people.The change started when all voters came out on Election Day despite the possibility of physical threats and bombs, earning the admiration of the world community.The change was obvious when the then ruling party, which had been again depending on its martyrs to try and whip up sympathy, was wiped out. The ill-gotten wealth could not save its skin, except in its conventional strongholds.The change happened when stalwarts and heavyweight political personalities were felled by little known men and women, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. When people of this province proved all those wrong who thought they were sellable or not politically savvy. Their men and even women voted for peace and for change. The change was also obvious when veteran political figures like Bilour accepted defeat with grace.It is a new Pakistan when the winning party is respecting the sentiments of the people and not thrusting their own will on others. The fact that Nawaz Sharif has been elected as Prime Minister for the third time out of a population of 180 million seems to have been a humbling experience for him. He is threading warily despite his heavy mandate and making sure he does not step on any toes. The decisions taken so far have been welcomed by most, even though it is still too early to speak, but the tone set is right and is raising hopes. Who can be better aware of the intricacies of power politics than a person, who has been through the highs and lows of it himself? If he learns from past mistakes - and by the look of things so far, it seems to be so - that by itself will be the biggest change. The unobtrusiveness of the army, before, during and after the elections is also a pleasant change and augurs well for the future of Naya Pakistan. The army has had to wipe the mistakes of its past leadership with the blood of its officers and jawans. It cannot afford any more musketeers, who throw the baby in their lap and discredit their sweat and toil of years. The role played in recent years by the army in supporting and strengthening democracy despite reservations must be acknowledged.The age of glib talking is over in Pakistan. The people have been fooled for too long. Now they are ready for change. If it is not brought about by the politicians, they have learnt to throw them out. This is no more the Pakistan where politicians lure voters with a tin of oil and disappear from public view when elected. The age of accountability and rule of law looms ahead. A vibrant media, an effective Supreme Court, these are all things to be proud of.The problems faced by Pakistan are still very much there. The difference is that now we see a little light at the end of the tunnel, which can help us grope ahead. The nations of the world are also sensing this positive change, this potential in us, provided we get the right leadership and are beginning to treat us accordingly.Merit rather than personal loyalty is the simple formula for success.A new hope has been kindled. Men of calibre are stepping forward.Now everyone is realising they have a role to play in nation building.This is what a brave democracy means. It is about time we throw off the shroud of despondency. It is about time we notice, acknowledge and appreciate positive developments.It is time to believe in Naya Pakistan.

The writer is country project coordinator for a Pak-German welfare organisation and a freelance columnist.