Last updated: May 19. 2013 9:44PM - 462 Views

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The results are not yet official, but Pakistan’s parliamentary election marks a moment of unprecedented potential for one of the world’s most troubled countries.

For the first time in its 66-year history, Pakistan will see the transition from one democratically elected government to another. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was ousted by the military in 1999, will return to power, displacing a regime that has overseen widespread corruption and economic regress since taking over in 2008. Sharif won a surprisingly strong mandate Saturday from the roughly 60 per cent of eligible voters who cast a ballot. That turnout would have been remarkable under any circumstances, but amid attacks from the Taliban, it proved just how committed Pakistanis are to determining their own future.

Allegations of voter fraud have somewhat dampened celebrations. But even if real, it seems the crimes were not widespread enough to significantly change the outcome. This was undoubtedly a victory for Pakistani democracy.

Beyond that, Sharif’s win is cause for cautious optimism. His dovish approach to foreign policy has the potential to defuse tensions in the region, particularly with India and Afghanistan. And he has promised improved relations with the United States, strained by drone strikes in Pakistan’s tribal regions. Meanwhile, private-sector faith in the conservative Sharif’s promises of economic recovery sent the Karachi stock exchange skyward in the lead-up to the vote.

Sharif’s success — and that of Pakistan’s democracy — will depend in part on the reaction of the military and the judiciary, institutions that have so often overshadowed the country’s politicians. Here, too, there are promising signs. The prime minister-designate and the judiciary are united by a common antipathy toward former ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who led the coup that deposed Sharif in 1999 and who eight years later scandalously fired the chief justice of the supreme court.

The next year will bring new heads of Pakistan’s military and judiciary, and will test Sharif’s self-professed diplomatic prowess.

The Star, Toronto

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