Mosharraf Zaidi in Foreign Policy:
1. Feisty democracy
This first-ever transition from one elected government to the next is a big deal, partially because Pakistanis are depressingly familiar with military interventions preceding power transfers. But it's also important because Pakistan's recent experience with democracy has been so unpleasant.
The word “democracy” has become a tragic punchline in Pakistan, ever since President Asif Ali Zardari appealed to rioters reacting to his wife Benazir Bhutto's December 2007 assassination bystating that “democracy is the best revenge.” Elected to succeed his wife, Zardari now oversees a notoriously inept government: his nominees for prime minister have all been investigated, indicted, or convicted for corruption.
Zardari's government has also had to endure, in 2008 alone, the blowback from the Mumbai terror attacks, near bankruptcy, and a return to the International Monetary Fund for another $7.6 billion after the global financial crisis. Three years later, 2011 saw the Raymond Davis incident, the humiliating U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden, and the U.S.-NATO attack on the Pakistani border post of Salala that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. These stresses claimed many scalps, including former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, former Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and former National Security Advisor Mahmud Durrani. That's not to mention several high-profile political assassinations — and many thousands dead from fighting. To top it all off, in 2010, Pakistan experienced one of the most devastating floods of the 20th century, affecting more than 20 million people and marginalizing the agrarian economies of the Pakistani heartland for almost a year.
And yet, after enduring these calamities Pakistanis are not only engaged in a major political debate about the future, but also likely to break records for voter turnout on May 11.
What Pakistan has gone through since 2008 would have wiped out any chance of another free election in the Pakistan of the past. Yet there is now confidence and hope that not every government will be as feckless the last. Whatever the election result is on May 11, a young and fragile democracy is going to take a giant leap.