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Turmoil in Pakistan: A Post-Election Analysis

It’s only been a few days since the curtains closed on a tumultuous and divisive election, now Pakistan stands at the precipice of uncertainty. With close to 128 million citizens exercising their democratic rights on February 8th, the aftermath has left the nation in a state of paralysis. 

An unexpected outcome has rattled political pundits and observers alike, with the independent candidates winning the lion's share of the 265 National Assembly seats up for election.  95 of those seats were backed by the former cricket icon and currently jailed, Imran Khan’s PTI party and they defied all the odds to score a huge political upset. 

Pakistan’s election has left former three-time prime minister and leader of the PMLN Nawaz Sharif with egg on his face, after his return to Pakistan from exile in London. Mr Sharif had been widely seen as the army’s preferred candidate but failed to capitalise on such backing with his party winning only 75 seats. Former foreign secretary Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s PPPP’s only managed to bag 54 seats.

So, what lies ahead for Pakistan in this complex political situation?

Well, as Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy, there will need to be a coalition agreement formed between the main political parties to be able to achieve the required 169 members out of 336 in the National Assembly vote for their prime ministerial candidate. The inevitable ‘horse-trading’ for candidates and the ‘financial solicitation’ of the smaller parties will likely ensue, especially independent candidates that were backed by Mr Khan’s PTI party. 

Unfortunately for Imran Khan, his PTI party was unable to contest a single seat under their party banner, owing to the Electoral Commission ruling that there had been some discrepancies with the process of how internal PTI candidates were selected for their respective seats. After being kicked out of office in April 2022 following a no-confidence vote in Parliament, Mr Khan was jailed in August of 2023 on corruption charges, relating to the sale of undeclared gifts from foreign dignitaries.

When Mr Khan was jailed many of his PTI comrades were similarly rounded up too, causing chaos within the PTI party prior to the election. Despite the jailings, and given that their party was effectively written off the ballot paper, they managed to pull off a huge upset by essentially outperforming every other major political party. However, it looks to be a victory in vain, as their chances of forming a coalition with the other parties look very unlikely. Speaking to Dawn News, PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan said “We don’t feel comfortable with both (PMLN and PPP) of them. There will be no talks with anyone to make a government or to make a government together with them. It is better to sit in the opposition than to make a government [with them], but we think we have the majority”.

Ali Khan is referring to claims of widespread voter fraud and rigging during the electoral process against PTI-backed candidates. The PTI have alleged that widespread tampering was done to steal their candidates’ majorities and benefit the PMLN candidates, as the party was seen to be favoured by the country’s military. Having ruled Pakistan for nearly half of its existence the military has been extraordinarily influential on the country’s politics from behind the scenes. It was widely regarded that they had given the PMLN tacit support, in order to stop Imran Khan from winning and leaving prison. Now, a senior bureaucrat, commissioner Liaqat Ali Chattha, has admitted that he helped rig Pakistan’s elections, Pakistan’s election commission will ‘hold an enquiry’.

Whilst the court battles will be arduous and long, it looks likely that the outcome will not favour the PTI. Their best hope is of scraping together a deal with the smaller parties to get a majority in Parliament. Without that unlikely outcome, Imran Khan looks to be in prison for the foreseeable future.

The most likely result looks to be an agreement between Sharif’s PMLN and Bhutto Zardari’s PPP, similar to the coalition that brought about the downfall of Imran Khan’s PTI government. Ultimately, the deal would only be agreed upon if Bilawal Bhutto Zardari could become prime minister, fulfilling the legacy akin to his late mother, Benazir Bhutto, the country’s first female prime minister and the first female Muslim Prime Minister in the world. Nonetheless with the Sharif’s unlikely to swallow their pride and allowing this - coupled with the grand return of Nawaz Sharif from self-exile - I highly doubt that they would allow Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to hold the premiership for a full term. I suspect that the most likely outcome of this arrangement would be a ‘rotation government’, with a set timetable for who is prime minister when – similar to Israel’s model following the 2020 and 2021 legislative elections. It would however be a sad day for democracy, if the second and third largest parties were to form the next government.

The biggest loser of these elections has been the military, whose attempts to overtly coerce the population into supporting the PMLN failed. Pakistan’s armed forces are instead left panicking. Now, amongst the confusion of the masses, the global markets are panicking too and investors see the electoral situation as deeply unfavourable. The failed democratic outcome, disunity of the military and polity, and unfavourable views of the market will leave Pakistan in crisis.

Image: AFP/via Aljazeera

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