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Deciphering Pakistan’s Political Landscape: An Overview of the 2024 National Assembly Elections

Against the backdrop of political turmoil and uncertainty, Pakistan conducted its highly anticipated National Assembly elections on February 8th. Grappling with a severe economic crisis and the damages caused by the massive floods during the summer of 2022, the nation desperately needs a stable government that can bring radical reforms to address these challenges. However, with allegations of rigging, the credibility of the election results is in doubt. 

The Top Candidates 

The three major parties competing were the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). PML-N was a key contender and had former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother, Shehbaz Sharif, as the front runners. PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, former foreign minister and member of a prominent political family, was also vying for victory and was an ally of Nawaz Sharif’s party. 

On the other hand, everyone had their eyes on PTI’s leader, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who has been mired in controversies. He is currently serving and has over 150 cases pending against him. Recently, along with his wife, Khan has been under fire because their marriage defied Islamic laws, and Pakistan’s Supreme Court even banned PTI from using their ‘cricket bat’ symbol in the elections. 

Khan was ousted from the position of prime minister last year due to a no-confidence vote by the opposition, and his party was barred from standing in elections. However, many candidates backed by PTI have stood as independents in the 2024 election. Khan has faced ‘unprecedented’ legal hurdles, which his party argue have prevented him from campaigning properly. In contrast, Sharif’s corruption charges were promptly overturned after he returned from a ‘self-imposed’ exile from the UK so as not to serve prison sentences in his home country. Although the Pakistani military is not officially competing in the elections, it significantly influences the government and election outcomes. 

The 2024 election manifestos released by the three parties reveal that they intend to focus on several issues, including judicial and economic reforms with specific promises, such as reducing the sky-high inflation rates, expanding the job market, and addressing the energy sector challenges. Each party has delineated their priorities, such as PML-N’s pledge to strengthen the parliament and the judiciary, ensuring that judgements for major and complex cases are decided within a year and more minor cases within two months. They also want to prioritise the economic growth of the country and stabilise relations with India and partnerships with countries such as China and the USA. PPP’s manifesto titled “Chuno Nai Soch Ko” (Choose New Thinking) is based on principles of alleviating poverty and unemployment. In terms of foreign policy, the PPP wants to stress creating peaceful relationships with neighbouring countries, protecting the CPEC (China- Pakistan Economic Corridor) and advocating for Kashmir’s self-determination. 

As far as PTI is concerned, their 168-page manifesto, “Shandaar Pakistan, Shandaar Mustaqbil aur Kharaab Maazi se chhutkara” (Empowering Pakistan for a Just, Progressive, and Inclusive Future), highlights Imran Khan’s vision of reforming the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), bringing more transparency to the process of selection of judges and reducing the tenure of the National Assembly to 4 years (currently 5 years) and the Senate’s to 5 years (now 6 years). The party also aims to overhaul the tax system, provide subsidies to farmers and offer various vocational and skill development programmes for the youth. They want to safeguard Pakistan’s interests globally with a ‘Pakistan First’ policy and promote a more cordial relationship with other Muslim countries as well as China.  

The Results

PTI had a supposed victory after securing 93 seats, followed by PML-N winning 75 seats and PPP winning 54 seats. TheMuttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, which has a strong presence in urban areas (in particular Karachi), got 17 seats (other major news outlets are reporting different numbers). No party has won the parliamentary majority necessary to form an independent government. There is speculation that PML-N, along with PPP and MQM, will band together to form a coalition government led by Shehbaz Sharif. 

As for PTI, they have expressed their will to also create a government at the centre as well as in the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but it is not clear with whom they may form an alliance to get the numbers required to form a government. They will not be associating with the PML-N or PPP. A look at PTI’s 

There remains a lot of contention about the legitimacy of the results. Commissioner Rawalpindi Liaqat Ali Chatta, a senior bureaucrat, has admitted that the results of PTI-backed candidates in the province of Punjab had been manipulated by him, where they were leading by over 70,000 votes. He has also revealed that the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chief Justice of Pakistan were involved in the act. Following the confession, the Punjab police arrested him, and the Chief Justice denied Chatta’s accusations. PTI and other parties have not accepted the results, leading to country-wide protests. The delay in the publication of the results by the Election Commission of Pakistan has further fuelled suspicions that the results are illegitimate. The counting of the votes went on for two days and amidst the allegation of rigging there have also been reports that the authorities had switched off mobile networks right on the day of the election. There were also many reported problems with the functioning of the social media platform X.  

The Pakistani military urged all parties to show cooperation. General Asim Munir appealed for maturity and solidarity, arguing that such divisive politics did not reflect the progressive mindset of its citizens. Both Sharif and Khan have separately declared victory.

What does this mean for the people?

This election was one of the most monumental events in Pakistan’s political history.  According to a report by Asia Network for Free Elections, a record-breaking 60.6 million Pakistani people came to exercise their voting rights. The report states that compared to 2018, around 5.4 million more people voted in the general election, but the turnout showed a significant decrease. This might have been because of increased registered voters, harsh winters in certain parts of the country, and fear of violence in areas such as Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. All in all, these numbers point toward the fact that despite all these obstacles, the citizens of Pakistan are weary of the country’s political instability and desperately want to see a change in how it functions. Despite all the odds, PTI’s win shows the indirect but firm rejection of the military’s interference in politics and of famous personalities from long-standing political dynasties. But in general, people seem to have lost faith in the electoral process, with about 7 out of 10 Pakistanis being underconfident about the fairness of the elections. They are also highly doubtful about the country’s economic future. The unlikeliness of the formation of a government can quickly push the country into more significant troubles concerning its economy, and the incredibility of the results can further polarise Pakistani society. 

The UK, the US and the EU have all called for investigations following the allegations of unfairness and irregularities in the election. 

Reports from all quarters echo the sentiments of the ordinary people. The coalition government may face many hardships in delivering its promises and readjusting the course of Pakistan’s deteriorating economy. There might be differences in opinion between the leaders of PML-N and PPP and the other smaller parties, which could weaken the administration.With Pakistan’s foreign reserves fast depleting and its over-reliance on IMF’s aid, the new government might have to practice a more restive economic policy and the rise in cross-border tensions with Iran and Afghanistan and increase in attacks by terrorist organisations like the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) can also destabilise the new government, causing it to rely on the military to deal with such threats. 

In conclusion, the coalition government might not be powerful enough to deal with a crumbling economy and an increasingly complex security situation. Immense cooperation between leaders across parties would be required to tackle all the challenges that cast a gloomy shadow over Pakistan’s future.   

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