Inside ‘Gourmet Bakery and Sweets’ on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn, a small group was riveted by the television screen, where a private Urdu news channel was airing the results of the 2013 Pakistan elections. Some of them whooped with joy and others groaned with disappointment, as polling outcomes were announced one by one.
“The lion has made everyone flee,” exclaimed the manager Kashif Rana of the well-known Pakistani retail outlet, especially delighted.
He was referring to the election symbol of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) one of the two main contenders and the party of two-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The elections in Pakistan – the first time since the country’s independence that one democratic government was going to be replaced by another – riveted Pakistanis abroad. They took a keen interest even though they were unable to vote themselves — the Supreme Court of Pakistan had given instructions to the Election Commission of Pakistan to make arrangements to enable overseas Pakistanis to cast their votes, but the mechanism could not be developed on time. Interest was particularly high in the Flatbush area of Brooklyn informally called ‘Little Pakistan’ because of its 11,000 Pakistani Americans – around 27 percent of New York City’s Pakistani population, according to the U.S. 2010 census.
“I feel so upset that Imran Khan has lost that I can barely speak,” said Kashif Sonu, the owner of a glove factory, barely touching the food he had ordered. “The ruling party is composed of very corrupt people and everything will remain the same.”
Though Sharif was always a favorite analysts had also predicted that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would be able to create a dent in the election results. PTI is headed by Imran Khan who was captain of the Pakistan cricket team before turning to politics. In recent years, his party has gained widespread popularity by banking on the clean image of Khan, who has never been involved in a corruption scandal. His party ended up gaining a majority only in one province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, out of four.
“I already expected Nawaz Sharif to win but at heart I wanted Imran Khan to win,” said Ghazanfar Khaliq, a travel agent. He had grown up in the United States and spoke with a thick American accent.
Sheikh Saleem, a taxi driver who has been living in the United States for the past 28 years also said that he was disappointed that PTI had lost. “I wanted Tehreek-e-Insaf to win because its policies seem to be effective, that we should not take dictation from anyone and develop a tax culture,” he said. He also asserted that he was happy that at least Imran Khan’s party would not play the role of a friendly opposition.
But not everyone was upset about Sharif’s victory. Wearing shalwar kameez- a traditional Pakistani dress comprising of loose fitted pajamas, a long shirt and a shawl – a mother daughter duo walked into the restaurant. They briefly glanced at the television screen where the men were gathered and then made their way to the lower sections of the cafe. With shining eyes and huge smiles, they gushed about how happy they were that Sharif had won and outlined their hopes for the future.
“Nawaz Sharif is going to improve Pakistan, change everything and build a new Paris in the country,” said the daughter, Samreena Ahmed, 22, a business student at the Hudson Community College.
In the run-up to the polls, both Tehreek-e-Insaf and Sharif’s party carried out massive election campaigns. PTI had never come into power before while PML-N consisted of veteran politicians. Some analysts also believed that the relative inexperience of Imran Khan also took a toll on his election results.
Waqas Akhtar, 26, a pre-medical student at Long Island University supported this notion. “I think Nawaz Sharif is the better candidate and Imran Khan is still young and inexperienced to lead the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, as the results were coming in, videos and images also simultaneously appeared on social media allegedly capturing rigging at a few polling stations.
Jahanzeb Khan, a 25-year-old law student believed that the elections had been fair, but Zul-qar-nain, a banker, said he was convinced that the elections had been rigged because of what he had seen on Facebook.
“I feel disappointed by the result of the elections except for Khyber Pakhtukhwa,” he said. “The people who have been tested for the past 20 years have come into power again.”
Sitting at a table and having ‘chaat’ a traditional delicacy with his friend, Khan Amin a system manager of a convenience store 7-Eleven said he had also wanted Khan to win.
“We have already given a chance to the other parties,” he said.
As Sharif’s party came closer and closer to victory only a few people remained in the restaurant to watch the election results. Waqas Haider, 45, a yellow cab driver, was one of them.
He believed that the results were in tune with the inclination of the public and should not be questioned.
“Nawaz Sharif’s party won because it comprises of experienced politicians and now it is their obligation to deliver,” he said.
He also declared that the president could have given overseas Pakistanis the right to vote much earlier and they were purposefully deprived of having their say in the elections.
At the Pakistani restaurant Mithas, cross the street from Gourmet Bakery, a private Urdu channel was also providing election coverage. Asma Bajwa, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s chief coordinator in New York City, and her friend were glued to the screen.
She said Tehreek-e-Insaf would now be in a position to keep a check on the way the ruling party exercised its power by emerging as a strong opposition.
Bajwa didn’t want to talk about accusations of poll-rigging.
“I don’t want to waste my energy on negativity,” she said. “Whatever we have achieved, we will think positively and grow from our 25 percent.”