With the 2018 Pakistan election just around the corner, the country is polarized to the extreme. Political divides are so intense that a prospective voter of any particular party is not receptive to anything that goes against his/her political perception(s). Even if that perception might be slightly misguided or having erroneous facts as its basis, it seems they are happy to be slaves of that very perception. There is a deep lack of openness to any alternative facts correcting the errors that form the foundation of many a voter’s political beliefs. Partly to blame for creating such a perception and continuously adding to this is the onslaught by the various political parties and affiliated workers of all possible topics that can bring a reaction that assists them in winning the election and ultimately forming a government. We have seen Khatam-e-Nabuwat, secretarian alliances, ethnic tilts and so on as verbal tools of warfare in this political climate. At this point in time, majority of the voters have made their decision about which party they will vote for and that will not change no matter what. However, according to a recent survey, there is still a large percentage which is undecided and their tilt to one side can change the outcome of the elections.

So let’s forget about those who have made up their mind and are no more receptive to any new ideas, facts and information that can enlighten their voting decision. Let us focus on those who are trying to make some sense of the available knowledge and information to figure out the best choice in the upcoming election.

The last five years are a good yard stick to decide which party could perform under different circumstances. Three biggest parties were heading governments in provinces, with PML-N in the centre, and they can be held accountable for their respective performance. The year 2013 was focused mainly on the three issues of energy, economy and security concerns. The fragile condition these three important pillars for sustainable development were in 2013 is well known to all. We have seen bomb blasts in our surroundings, hours and hours without electricity and almost next to no foreign investment in those days. Post 18th amendment, all these three issues put the burden of responsibility mostly on the provincial governments. As far as energy is concerned, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was able to install a power plant of 74 MW, Sind made some progress with wind energy under 100 MW while Punjab contributed with over 3500 MW to the system. As far as law and order is concerned, vast improvements have been observed in the country in last five years. Legislations were introduced at federal and provincial levels. It has been observed that political ownership and resolutions are required to any anti-terrorism activity to make it a sustainable solution. Federal and provincial governments deserve credit along with other LEA in this matter which has resulted in enabling environment for economic activities. Terrorist activities were reduced from around 5000 per annum to 50. Fatalities have been reduced by 58% from 2013 to 2015. On the economic side, CPEC brought the country’s biggest foreign direct investment in its history and Moody’s rating improved to better levels till the last 2-3 months when it has dropped drastically due to the political upheaval. Debt to GDP ratio was increased from 60% in 2008 to 67% in 2017. Budget deficit reduced to 4.6% in 2016 from 8.8% in 2012. Government’s revenue was increased from 3000 billion in 2013 to around 5000 billion in 2017. Stock market and currency performances were among the best ones in the world till sudden recent fall. GDP growth rate hit new heights to 5.7%, highest in last 10 years while inflation rate was lowest in to 2.4% in last forty years. This has been the performance in these last five years by the centre government.

One of the important traits of leadership is to delegate powers and let teams work with-in their respective domains. It is important that we look at the teams that the three main political parties have, who will be heading different ministries and departments provided their party make governments in centre and/or provinces. Here is the list of the top leadership of PTI, PML-N and PPP to give a clear image of what the potential cabinets will comprise:

Imran Khan Shehbaz Sharif Asif Ali Zardari
Shah Mehmood Qureshi Ahsan Iqbal Bilawal Bhutto
Asad Umer Shahid Khaqan Abbasi Shireen Rehman
Aleem Khan Khawaja Asif Maula Baksh Chandio
Pervez Khattak Khawaja Saad Rafique Qamar Zaman Kaira
Chaudhry Sarwar Ayaz Sadiq Makhdoom Ahmad
Shah Farman Awais Laghari Nisar khurro
Fawad Chaudhry Rana Sana Haider Zaman
Shireen Mazari Hamza Shahbaz Sharjeel Memon, Murad Ali Shah

The currently overly zealous NAB and Judicial System in Pakistan has also attracted a lot of criticism from political leadership and international media in the recent political upheavals. The role of the military is being questioned by the many and increased participation by it with regards to the elections has also raised many eyebrows. Regardless of the accountability process, verified surveys tell us that PML-N still has an edge over other political forces in the country with its widespread voter base, while PTI is fast approaching them.

If we believe in a democratic system and see it as the right option to take the country forward, to resolve national issues and ensure Pakistan’s sustainable future, then we should all invest in political processes and participate in the election. Being undecided is fine, but only so long as you do make an eventual choice in time for the upcoming election and vote to take Pakistan to the heights it can achieve. In next 10-15 years, we might not have this generation of politicians actively participating in politics namely Mian Nawaz Sharif, Mian Shehbaz Sharif, Imran Khan and Asif Zardari, so it is important to see who has been performing in their elected provinces/centre and the evidence of that performance backed by verified facts and figures. If we invest in democracy, we might have a stronger democratic institution in future which will deliver further and tackle Pakistan’s development. At this point of time, no one has a single button to resolve matters overnight. Let the biggest party win and show what it can achieve in the next five years, that will the victory for all of us. Perhaps write this as: Lets support the party that has given evidence of its performance, and see what it can achieve for us further. The next five years will show us the importance of the vote we choose to cast now.

The hate speech against PML-N

People argue that Mian Nawaz Sharif had no other option but to come back. They argue that his esteemed wife is already departed or was never really sick. These are the same people who argue that the country didn’t need metro buses and motorways but hospitals and educational facilities first. These are the people who never use public transport and have a cup of coffee at Bhera everytime they are on motorways. They will say that Gawadar was never a project of Mian Nawaz Sharif but will never acknowledge the fact that no one else could make it a reality with the level of international funding that only he as a leader of Pakistan managed to attract. Many of them told us the Chinese President was never coming to Pakistan and how CPEC is not good for Pakistan and many others believed it. Most of them still cannot accept the fact the load-shedding has been reduced to a minimum. These are the very people who have never visited public hospitals in their lives and don’t know how millions are getting free medicines in Punjab province. They fail to admit that the medical facilities have been increased 1.5 times in just the last five years. We should invest in education instead of the ‘Jangla Bus’, but they don’t know that the province has reached over 90% enrolment overall which is highest ever in our history and more than 200 new colleges and 50 universities have been beefed up in the sector. They tell us about the HEC budget but don’t know the fact the education is a provincial matter post 18th amendment, so is health. It is no joke when 5,000 people visit Punjab from KP daily for better medical facilities. They cannot appreciate (due to lack of awareness) that a poor student from Danish School Rajanpur in South Punjab has topped in the province. There are legislations for women now and compulsory quota has been increased immensely. Is this just a coincidence that the best schools, universities, and hospitals in the public sector are all in one province? Oh but they Sharifs haven’t delivered and obviously didn’t pay from their own pockets and it’s our money and they are public servants.

Shahbaz Sharif will be remembered for ages for his work and contributions to the province. He has delivered projects that are first of their kind in the country and that too in record time. Punjab Speed is a term that has even got popular in China and refers to the speed of execution by the Punjab government despite the slow PEPRA rules and that is a massive achievement in itself (those that are well versed in the cumbersome and time consuming process of approvals within any governmental set up can impartially vouch for that). For one, have you ever visited a police station recently? Guess what, you will be welcomed by non-uniformed and welcoming staff with IT equipment that assist with your complaints. There is only one Judicial System in the country recently shifted to IT, that too is in Punjab. The Lahore High Court has been digitized recently with a new state of the art ERP system. More than 350,000 students got full scholarships and IT sector is booming like never before. Last year, IT sector contributed USD 2 Billion to our economy. The simple question is, do we have any other possible competition for the work done by Mian Shahbaz Sharif? The simple answer is obviously NO, that is if you are following verified facts on ground and not Facebook as your source of information.

The next important question is why Mian Nawaz Sharif came back along with his daughter. The simple answer is if it was all personal, they could have delayed it to any suitable time where they would have made some arrangements with the people in power to avoid jail and massive crackdown of their political members and workers. The entire country and especially Punjab is changed after 13th July. Lahore witnessed one of the biggest political manoeuvring in its history when people came out in love of their leader. The maltreatment from the government and media has contributed to a lot of anger among PML-N workers. They are more motivated and angry towards power corridors and blame them for manipulating things against their leader. Nawaz Sharif’s return is a new trend in our volatile history. It might not change the balance of power from military to civil governments overnight, but it has indeed got the ball rolling and we will see and remember this bold action of Mian Nawaz Sharif -- to stand against all odds -- as the point from where our democratic system started strengthening. It is also a matter of choice for our all-important military establishment to ponder that they might not have to have favourites in politics and serve the nation as described in the constitution. The choice in this election is easy, either you are with democracy or you are not.