Watch | Pakistan elections | A new dawn or more of the same?

In this episode of Worldview, we discuss Pakistan election and what it means for India and the region 

Updated - February 09, 2024 09:11 pm IST

Published - February 09, 2024 08:47 pm IST

Pakistan prepares for political chaos as election results suggest a surge in favour of Imran Khan’s candidates- but with no clear winner yet, can the man seen as the military’s choice- Nawaz Sharif still forge a government?

Results are trickling in from Pakistan’s election nearly 24 hours later- which itself is news, as normally results are done within 8 or 9 hours of the polls closing- leading to fears of electoral manipulations further. Whatever else is in doubt- this is certainly not the easy win that many had predicted for Nawaz Sharif

I’m not going to confuse you by giving figures that may get dates- what we will try to do is look at the broad trends, what possible outcomes there could be- what that means for Pakistan, and then how that changes the course if at all for the rest of the region, especially India.

So first- Heres what you need to know about Pakistan elections and what they voted for

1. Pakistan holds elections for 266 seats of the National Assembly or parliament- , and State assembly elections. The National Assembly has 336 seats in all- 60 are reserved for women, 10 for minorities which are nominated by parties in proportion to their seats.

2. 134 seats are needed by a party or a coalition to be invited to form government- an if you look at the number of seats, it is easy to see how Punjab state is the main decider of the National government- here is the break up of seats:

Punjab – 141 seats

Sindh- 61 seats

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa- 45 seats

Balochistan- 16 seats

Islamabad Capital Territory- 3 seats

3. Provincial or State Assembly elections for Punjab, Sind, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies are also expected- broad trends appear to give Sindh to the Pakistan People’s Party, KPK to Independents affilitated to Imran Khan, while Punjab is seeing many wins by Independents, but Sharif’s PML-N as the biggest party and likely to form the state assembly. It should also be noted that while Independents were winning by large leads across the country overnight- by the next afternoon- it seemed many of the results turned in favour of PML-N

Now what’s different about these elections?

  1. Former PM Imran Khan is in jail- and still very popular… he was disqualified from standing after being charged with corruption, misappropriation and a case of national security. He has not been able to campaign, or speak to supporters, and has used AI and other innovative means to reach voters. On voting day, the government suspended the internet, and telephone communications were down, leading to more allegations that this was an attempt to manage the outcome.
  2. While leaders of major parties have often been in jail during elections – this is the first time since 2008 where a political party itself has been stopped from campaigning- Imran Khan’s PTI has lost not just its recognition, but also its party symbol the cricket bat- and as a result had to put up candidates with different symbols.
  3. Nawaz Sharif- former PM, who had earlier been disqualified and sentenced to prison has been given protection from arrest, and a waiver of the charges against him that allowed him to return to Pakistan after 4 years
  4. Analysts say this election in 2024 is the mirror image of the 2018 elections- when Imran Khan won the elections, while Nawaz Sharif was convicted and sentenced to prison.
  5. But what has made this election truly different is this- that the PTI has not given up standing for elections despite the restrictions, that people have registered a strong turnout despite the cynicism, and the votes for a record number of independents show that there was both a political and public resistance to the outcome that was seen as the military establishment’s favourite for this election 

Possible Outcomes of the Pakistan vote :

  1. A hung assembly in which no party wins a clear majority, and even the PML-N and the PPP are not able to forge a winning coalition- leading to long term chaos
  2. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N goes ahead and stakes claim to form government, if it is the biggest party. It then manages to win a confidence vote by turning Independents to shift their allegiance from the PTI to PML
  3. Even the PPP has a path to power as it could be seen as the lesser of two evils by Imran Khan affiliated independents
  4. The PTI’s Independents sign support for one of their leaders and form a coalition of their own. Remember, the President, who has to invite the next PM to form a government is still Arif Alvi, from the PTI party.

Each of these outcomes could see a massive backlash on the streets, or even from establishment backed militia- and the violence could take a turn for the worse.

-The last such elections- where East Pakistan’s Mujib ur Rahman won elections in 1970 but this was not accepted by then President Yahya Khan- eventually led to protests and violence that saw the creation of Bangladesh a year later

-Elections in the post-Zia Ul Haq period in 1993-1996 and from 2008-2018 have all seen the military range in favour of one or other party- leading to them being called selections not elections. Even so, the results have more or less been accepted in the past, and the question, will these elections see a pushback?

-In 2013, Imran Khan began a nationwide campaign against the election results where Sharif won- and that led to a change in government…Remember, no Pakistan PM has ever completed a full term in office- due mainly to the military’s interference

Impact for region and India:

  1. Concerns about Pakistan heading into political chaos- causing regional instability with Pakistan’s unstable borders with Iran, Afghanistan and India
  2. Pakistan’s economy has been in free fall, and confidence in its recovery may plunge further. With uncertainty over the elections, Markets at the Karachi Stock Exchange dropped 2,000 points on Friday morning.
  3. In particular, the questions over an IMF default, and a greater dependence on China- that holds an estimated $67 billion in loans to Pakistan at present- will push Pakistan even further into an economic collapse
  4. A spike in terrorism ahead of elections- blasts in Balochistan that saw dozens killed just before polls, as well as TTP attacks in Khyber Pukthunkhwa could spill over in the rest of the region
  5. In a subcontinent where Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, India and Sri Lanka are all due for elections- the appearance of manipulated elections tars the entire neighbourhood 

WV Take:

From the start, the elections in Pakistan have been seen as an unfair match- where one side, the PTI arguably the most popular had to run the election- without their captain, without their bat, without a level playing field, and the Umpire ruling against them at every turn. While that will only increase the cynicism worldwide over democracy in Pakistan, pragmatism may involve forging some kind of engagement with whoever is the power in a country, as New Delhi has done with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Over all, it may be best to do nothing at all until the dust settles on these very contested election results

READING RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. Anger Management: The Troubled Diplomatic Relationship between India and Pakistan by Ajay Bisaria
  2. The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Divided Nation Paperback – 2 November 2021 by Declan Walsh
  3. The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics by Ayesha Jalal
  4. The People Next Door: The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations by T.C.A. Raghavan
  5. Neither a Hawk nor a Dove : An Insiders Account Of Pakistans Foreign Policy by Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri

 Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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