Election Fever Grips Brooklyn’s Little Pakistan

Three Pakistani Americans discuss the upcoming elections back home at Gourmet Bakery and Sweets on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. (Photo via The Brooklyn Ink)

Election fever has gripped Little Pakistan in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn as the South Asian country gets ready to elect a new parliament on May 11, reports Hira Nafees Shah in The Brooklyn Ink.

According to the 2010 census, the neighborhood is home to 27 percent of the more than 41,000 Pakistani Americans in New York City (a figure many community leaders believe is too low).

Wearing shalwar qameez, the traditional Pakistani wear of loose pajama-like pants and a tunic, men and women are sitting on restaurants like Gourmet Bakery and Sweets on Coney Island Avenue, eager to share their opinion about the historic elections.

The country is going to polls at the completion of the five-year term of the goverment of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto who was assassinated in December 2007, heads the PPP. The elections will mark the first time in Pakistan’s 66-year history that a democratically elected government has completed its term.

Cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan, of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf party (PTI), and two-time former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) are believed to be the favorites to win the majority in parliament.

“I think Imran Khan should win but I don’t believe the elections will be fair because of the corruption in the country,” said Razia Khan, a 40-year-old mother of four sons who had come to Gourmet Bakery, an outlet of a well-known retail chain in Pakistan, to purchase some food items.

Khan’s popularity has surged in recent years largely because his PTI has never been elected. Pakistani political analysts say popular disenchantment with the country’s two main political parties – the PPP and PML-N – helps the cricket legend. Khan’s supporters are predicting better days for the nuclear-armed country plagued by extremism and terrorism. Such hopes resonate in Brooklyn’s Gourmet Bakery.

Sitting at a table with his two young daughters and wife, Muhammad Ali Khan said that “If Imran Khan wins, things will get better in Pakistan, otherwise the country will regress 100 years.” He also said that a lot of people were going to visit their homeland to cast their votes, but he couldn’t go because of his health problems.

Pakistan’s constitution gives its citizens living overseas the right to vote in national elections. However, overseas Pakistanis have never exercised this right because the country’s election commission has been unable to facilitate the process. Such arrangements are now being made following recent orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan responding to appeals from the expatriate community.

“I would love to have the right to cast vote in the upcoming elections,” said Shoaib Awan, an under-graduate finance student at Brooklyn College. “I just want Pakistani leaders to be strong and not beg other countries for aid all the time.” Awan also said he believes the polls will be impartial this time, because the Pakistani courts are now keeping a check on politicians’ power and will not let them rig the elections.

Khan’s PTI has a large following in the U.S., including vocal supporters in Flatbush.

Waseem Arif, 31, a business consultant, claimed that if overseas Pakistanis were given the right to vote, 80 percent would vote for PTI. He also said Imran Khan’s party was the only hope for the country.

But voices of pessimism about electoral transparency are also part of the conversations. Eating “failooda,” a traditional Pakistani sweet in Mithaas Restaurant on Coney Island Avenue, Waseem’s friend Adnan Syed is not expecting a clean vote.

Pakistanis eager to discuss the elections have been gathering at Mithaas restaurant in Little Pakistan. (Photo via The Brooklyn Ink)

“The elections in Pakistan will not be fair because of the involvement of big players in the politics of the country like Afghanistan, Dubai and India,” he claimed.

Syed’s pessimism was shared by Maham Nazeer, a part-time assistant at the restaurant, who said she did not care about the upcoming elections, because she did not think that any change will take place in Pakistan.

The community in Brooklyn is also divided over the recent arrest of former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

“Musharraf should be hanged for arresting Pakistani people and handing them over to other countries,” said 20-year-old computer science student Junaid Nawaz.  Ali Adnan Syed disagreed, saying the former army chief had instituted several positive measures and that people were now taking revenge from him due to their personal biases.

There are no high hopes attached to the performance of Musharraf’s party in the elections. But many in the community believe Nawaz Sharif, the man Musharraf ousted from power in 1999, will do better. Zulfikar Ahmed, a cab driver, believes Sharif is a better choice for Pakistan.

He believed that Imran Khan’s “personal history in marrying a non-Muslim woman did not make him a suitable leader.” Ahmed also said, “We (overseas Pakistanis) pray to God all the time that he bestows Pakistan with an honest leadership.”

The computer science student Nawaz also voiced support for Sharif’s party. “Nawaz Sharif should win because he is better than Asif Ali Zardari and Imran Khan has no experience,” he said.

Rukhsana Zahid, a housewife and mother of three children, summed up who is the favorite to win on May 11 – at least in Little Pakistan.

 “I want Imran Khan to win so that the young generation of Pakistan can come forward and work for the betterment of the country.”


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