Pakistan's changing political landscape
- 30 April 2013
- From the section World
Pakistan can be an unpredictable place. But in a chequered history that has kept lurching from crises to coups, one event has kept coming back, with reassuring certainty - elections.
I've covered almost every one of them since 1988 when martial law abruptly ended and a people who fought for democracy directed their energies and enthusiasm towards the battle for ballots.
What boisterous campaigns there've been - massive rallies that packed stadiums and fields, convoys of vehicles snaking, horns blaring, through villages and down highways - a chaotic carnival in every constituency.
But elections in Pakistan can't be like that anymore. It's simply too dangerous. Not a day goes by without a report of an attack by one of many armed groups on a politician, or a public space, or the police.
I'm back in Pakistan to find out what it's like to campaign in "Elections 2013", and what it takes to win.
The crush of massive crowds has mostly been replaced by "corner rallies". Politicians travel across the land in helicopters on carefully guarded schedules, rather than spontaneously weighing into the fray.
Something has been lost. But something else has been gained. A different kind of explosion has transformed the political landscape here.
There's a dizzying array of television channels in all the languages spoken here. And social media provides the safest of places to argue and analyse, and of course to jockey for influence and joke. It wouldn't be Pakistan if they didn't.
Many worry about "saving Pakistan" - from the blight of official corruption, growing violence and extremism, deepening divisions. That's on top of the age-old problems of poverty and illiteracy.
Everyone talks of "change". Everyone has waited a long time for it to happen. Will it come, this time, from within the parties which traditionally dominated politics or will it usher in the rise of new political dynamic?
Yet again, this is an election where people warn that Pakistan "at a crossroads", is facing a "last chance".
Despite all the threats and disappointments, every person I have spoken to - so far - told me: "Yes of course I am voting!"
Pakistan always seems to get another chance. And yet again, you sense that at least the people want to seize it.
Once more, I'm following another Pakistani election, and this time will be posting updates on this page.