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Can Pakistan make first democratic transition?

ISLAMABAD (AsiaNews): More than half of 5,000 Pakistanis between the ages of 18 and 29 surveyed on the question of whether an Islamic government operating under Islamic law is preferable to democracy, chose the Islamic option, saying that democracy has not been good for the country.

The survey carried out by the British Council found that around 94 per cent also believe that the country is currently headed down the wrong track.

Catholic leaders in Islamabad commented that it takes time to rebuild the country, which needs opportunities to grow in order to give new confidence and hope to new generations.

Pakistan is going to the polls on May 11 after the National Assembly ended its mandate on March 16. The outgoing legislature was controlled by the Pakistan People’s Party.

This will mark the first democratic transition between two elected governments in a country that has seen many dictatorships and military coups over the decades.

More than 75 per cent of those surveyed in the report said the way the country is governed had worsened since the last election, whilst 58 per cent said they do not believe that democracy has been good for Pakistan in the past years.

Almost 70 per cent said they were worse off now than five years ago with rising prices cited as the greatest concern.

For analysts, the survey results are important, because the younger generation will be crucial to the outcome of the upcoming election in May. One third of voters are under 30.

A majority expressed the opinion that Sharia and military rule are better than western-style democracy, which the survey interprets as a sign that young Pakistanis are pessimistic and disenchanted after five years of civilian rule.

In fact, about 70 per cent have more faith in the army than any other institution; only 13 per cent trust the government.

Finally, one respondent in four said they had been directly affected by violence, or had witnessed a serious violent event. That figure rises to more than 60 per cent in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

“We respect the voice of the youth. This is the beauty of democracy, which we must accept,” Bishop Rufin Anthony, of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, told AsiaNews. “However, the system should provide opportunities for development to correct policies. This way, the whole system will be back on track.”

Tahir Naveed Chaudhry, a former member of the provincial assembly, agrees. He quoted Pakistan’s founder, Ali Jinnah, as saying, “Religion must be kept separate from state affairs.”

He added, “Democratic forces must stand firm if democracy is to prevail in Pakistan” over authoritarianism. “A democratic government,” he noted, “came to power after 10 years of dictatorship and it takes time to remove the mistakes made.”

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