Alicia Mollaun is a PhD Candidate at the Crawford School at ANU. She has lived in Islamabad since 2010. Photo is by the author.
Back in Australia, our election day concerns usually revolve around timing our vote so that we can get a parking space at the local school, avoiding how-to-vote cards and hoping there is a good snag at the sausage sizzle.
In Pakistan, the decision to vote in the historic 11 May election has become a life or death question for some. If I go to my local school to vote, will someone detonate a suicide vest next to me?
Every day the newspapers carry a new story of election-related violence in Pakistan. At least 50 people have been killed in pre-election violence since early April, mostly at the hands of the Taliban, which opposes Pakistan's secular parties. On 1 May, two candidates survived bomb attacks on their convoys in Sindh and Balochistan, while one candidate was kidnapped in North Waziristan.
Chairperson of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, 24 year-old Bilawal Bhutto (son of current President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto), is too terrified of assassination to campaign. Who could blame him after his mother was assassinated in 2008 just weeks before federal elections?
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the majority of attacks, leaving most parties and candidates forced to cancel rallies and campaign events. However, revered cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, the head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has continued to hold large rallies, since the Taliban has let it be known that it will not attack his party because it considers Khan to be sympathetic to the Taliban cause. Khan was injured in a fall at one such rally on Tuesday.
Secular parties in Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, notably the MQM and ANP, have suffered casualties almost on a daily basis, with several candidates killed or injured.
There are serious doubts now that elections will be free and fair. The Chief Election Commissioner has said that if security does not improve, it will be extremely difficult to hold free and fair elections on Saturday. The Election Commission of Pakistan announced its election security plan, declaring 20,000 polling stations across the country as 'sensitive' and saying it plans to deploy 50,000 troops to serve as a rapid response force.
Will this be enough to get Pakistanis to participate in this historic vote?
The election on 11 May will consolidate Pakistan's burgeoning democracy. It will be the first time that one democratically elected government is replaced by another. Pakistan is a young and inexperienced democracy, having been plunged into autocracy following a military coup a little over ten years after independence. Pakistan has been ruled by four generals and has been under a military government for over half of its history. Governments have rarely been allowed to serve out a full term before being removed by the military.
Yet the promise of change in Pakistan and the participation in the consolidation of democracy is unlikely to be enough to persuade Pakistanis to go to the polls on 11 May. I have spoken to Pakistanis in Islamabad about polling day, and many are choosing not to vote for security reasons – they are not confident polling stations will be safe.
Potential low voter turnout and continual violence targeting polling stations and candidates spells disaster for Pakistan's upcoming elections. Horse-trading to form a coalition government is the most likely outcome of the election, the result of which will no doubt be contested given the insecurity, corruption and fraud that are likely to be endemic.