Elections aim to determine the leaders of a country through majority opinion. However, there are instances where the results cause significant unrest, such as the current situation in Pakistan. The elections have led to nationwide protests and uncertainty over the next prime minister’s identity.
The general elections held on Thursday determined the partition of the National Assembly’s 336 members – the lower house of parliament in Islamabad. The election disallowed former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is imprisoned on corruption charges, and candidates from his party – Tehreek-e-Ansaf (PTI).
The court’s decision to allow members of Tehrik al-Ansaf to run as “independent” candidates led to an unprecedented situation as these contestants received most of the votes. This unfolded on a turbulent day marked by media freedom violations and ballot box theft. The US Secretary of State expressed concerns, stating that “Allegations of interference and fraud should be thoroughly investigated.”
Seventh place in the core
Pakistan holds global interest due to its strategic location, large population, and notably, its nuclear arsenal. The Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) ranks Pakistan seventh globally in terms of nuclear warheads – nearly double that of Israel. Hence, there are concerns over these strategic strengths falling into the wrong hands.
The economy was a significant focus in Pakistan’s turbulent election campaign. About 40% of the population is below the poverty line, and the annual inflation rate was 28.3% in January. Recent polls indicate citizens’ pessimism about Pakistan’s economy, with approximately 70% expecting worsening conditions.
Imran Khan, former Prime Minister of Pakistan / photo: ap, KM Chaudary
In June, Pakistan was on the brink of insolvency with foreign exchange reserves standing at about $4.4 billion – just enough to cover one month’s imports. Concurrently, the local rupee depreciated by about 50% against the dollar. However, then Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif secured a crucial aid package from the IMF.
The Sharif government anticipated an annual growth rate of about 2%, leading to a GDP per capita of about $1,470 in 2023. Additionally, Pakistan ranks 161st out of 191 in the Human Development Index.
The mission: 169 seats
Final results show a challenging path to majority (169 seats) for all parties. Independent candidates, primarily members of Tehreek-e-Ansaf, won 101 seats. The Muslim League party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif secured 75 seats, and the People’s Party (PPP) of former foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari finished with 54 seats.
Despite this, supporters of cricket star and former prime minister Imran Khan used artificial intelligence (AI) to generate his victory speech, despite his imprisonment. “You kept faith in me, and your overwhelming vote amazed everyone,” the AI version of Khan said.
The non-AI bottom line reveals several possibilities: Sharif and Zardari might seek additional parties to reach 169 seats for the coalition; Khan’s supporters could form a majority with other parties to determine the next prime minister; Zardari might try to negotiate between parties to become prime minister; or the army could seize control, as it has done for nearly three decades.
“All elections in Pakistan throughout the seven decades have dealt with various issues, including the election of the first woman prime minister in a country with a Muslim majority: Benazir Bhutto,” says Ahmed Qureshi, a Pakistani journalist specializing in national security. He adds, “Elections in Pakistan are largely successful, but are always marred by coercion attempts – sometimes from within the army.”
Protests about vote falsification
The world’s concern over the aftermath of Pakistan’s election results stems from current events. Protests broke out on Friday due to allegations of vote rigging and a slow vote count that lasted three days. In Shangla, two people were killed, and 24 were injured in clashes between Khan’s supporters and the police. Demonstrations in Islamabad led by Shoaib Shaheen, a Khan affiliate, followed on Sunday after losing a race for one of the capital’s seats.
Shaheen rejected the results and joined Jamaat Ulama e-Islam (JUI) and Tehreek al-Labaik (TLP) in a joint demonstration against the results in Islamabad. Concurrently, one of Pakistan’s oldest parties, Jamaat-e-Islami (JIP), announced protests in Karachi, stating, “Stealing the Karachi mandate is unacceptable.” Protests also occurred in Lahore and Peshawar. On Monday, Khan’s supporters blocked roads.
The primary concern is that these protests might escalate, encouraging the army to take over once again. Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister, has experienced a military coup firsthand, which occurred in 1999 when Chief of Staff Pervez Musharraf executed a bloodless coup. Despite the current instability, Sharif declared his party as the largest and admitted he was seeking a coalition partner.
The current Chief of Staff, Asim Munir, sent a clear message to politicians on Saturday, stating, “The nation needs steady hands and a healing touch to move forward from the politics of anarchy and polarization which is not compatible with a progressive country with 250 million citizens. Pakistan’s politics and pluralism will be well represented in a unified government.”
Journalist Qureshi concludes, “The biggest electoral robbery in the history of Pakistan took place in 2018. It was the most successful election theft in the country’s history when Imran Khan took power. He imprisoned political opponents for four years and planned to stay in power for a decade, or more. His aides were even talking about 30 years. This time, his supporters presented him as a democratic underdog. Khan’s party was successful in the elections, but many millions also voted against Khan and his politics, which includes chaos, extremism, and division. Pakistan is divided between Khan’s cult and those who oppose his populism.”
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