Political Turmoil in the Aftermath of the 2024 General Elections in Pakistan
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 11 Mar , 2024

The general elections held in Pakistan on February 08, 2024, were meant to be a pivotal moment for the country’s democratic journey. However, the aftermath of the elections had thrown the nation into a state of political turmoil and uncertainty. Millions of Pakistanis defied various forms of road blocks created by the administration to cast their votes, signalling a clear mandate against military’s involvement in politics. Despite this, the election results have been marred by allegations of widespread manipulation and rigging, sparking protests and controversies across the nation.

The Electoral Landscape: Allegations and Controversies

Millions of Pakistanis turned out to vote in the 2024 general elections, expressing their desire for a democratic process free from military interference. However, the results have been met with scepticism and accusations of foul play. Imran Khan’s political party ‘Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’ (PTI) backed independent candidates emerged as the victor as a block, securing 101 seats in the national legislature but they were not allowed to form the Government.Can independent legislatures not be considered a legitimate group to form a government? Allegations of vote manipulation and rigging have cast a shadow over the legitimacy of the elections.

The former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s most popular political party PTI, was prevented from using its election symbol in the elections scheduled for February 08, 2024, based on technical grounds, that the party had not held intra-party elections, as required under the law.  An intra-party election conducted by the PTI on June 8, 2022 was not recognised by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on the grounds that it was not “just and fair”. An attempt by the PTI to get the ban overturned failed, as Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld the election commission’s decision. The blocking of its symbol, the cricket bat, was an attempt by the military-backed caretaker government to ensure the party’s defeat. The end result of the ECP’s decision, and the Supreme Court’s affirmation of it, is in effect, the disenfranchisement of millions of voters and the liquidation of the country’s largest party in the run-up to the polls.

Pakistan’s National Assembly consists of 336 seats. A total of 266 members are elected through direct voting, while 70 seats are reserved, 60 for women and 10 for non-Muslims. The resulting scenario was that even if the opposing political parties Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) PML (Nawaz) and Pakistan People/s Party (PPP) had join hands, they would not have the required numbers to reach the halfway mark.

The reserved seats as per rules, are filled on the basis of each party’s numerical strength in the Assembly, but this time, the highest number is that of independents. On that count, not being a political party, the PTI backed independents were also denied their share of reserved seats. It is also not clear if some of the 101 independent candidates who had won the elections will join hands with parties opposed to the PTI at some time later and be part of the government.

Key international actors, including the US congressmen and the UK Foreign Secretary, have called for investigations into the allegations of electoral fraud. The ECP has faced criticism for the delay in announcing the results and over concerns of transparency of the electoral process. Candidates from various parties have raised questions about the irregularities in the tabulation process, particularly the Form 45 – commonly referred to as the “Result of the Count” form given to contesting party members which has led to claims of rigging. This document is considered a crucial record in the Pakistani electoral process. It is intended to showcase openness and accountability by documenting and disclosing the outcomes of the voting at a particular polling place.  

The widespread manipulation of the 2024 elections has put the alleged rigging of the 2018 elections to shame, further deepening the crisis of confidence in Pakistan’s electoral system. The suspension of mobile phone services on the Election Day, ostensibly due to security concerns, only exacerbated the chaos and fuelled demands for fresh elections.

Historical Context of Political Instability

Pakistan has a long history of political instability, characterized by delayed elections, military coups, and interventions by the establishment. The struggle between political parties and the military has hindered the country’s democratic progress, perpetuating a cycle of authoritarianism and instability.

Repeated interventions by the military establishment have overshadowed the influence of elected leaders and political parties, perpetuating political instability. The absence of clear agendas from leading political parties has further diminished prospects for effective governance, leaving the country mired in political uncertainty.

Challenges of Coalition Government

The aftermath of the 2024 elections has brought Shehbaz Sharif on to the chair of Prime Minister for the second time where he is heading a delicate alliance, with his party lacking the majority and the PPP, that had supported the formation of a coalition government declining to join the cabinet.

This implies, that the government will have to keep half a dozen political partners happy to prevent the government from collapsing. The government will perforce face the vulnerabilities of a minority coalition, impeding governance including parliamentary business. The situation thus presented will prevent the ruling party from its primary task of governance.

Pakistan’s fragile economy faces unprecedented macroeconomic challenges, including high inflation, growing unemployment and negative economic growth. The menace of terrorism perpetrated by Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) supported by Afghan Talban is yet another major issue that apart from causing casualties due to militant attacks, is hampering the growth of the country. To top it up, TTP has been demanding expulsion of Islamabad’s influence in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in Pakistan besides the implementation of a strict interpretation of Sharia throughout Pakistan, posing a threat to the integrity of Pakistan.  Under these circumstances, the government with an unstable coalition, will only aggravates these challenges, hindering efforts to reform and stabilize the economy.

Role of the Military and Reforming the Hybrid Regime

The military’s role in Pakistani politics has been a contentious issue. With a weak government, the military’s meddling in politics and governance is likely to increase in the wake of the 2024 elections. It is due to meddling by the Army that, barring Asif Ali Zardari no President of Pakistan has so far completed a full five-year term in Pakistan. The generals, who have carried out three coups so far, are the most powerful political players in Pakistan. Army has proven time and again that it will bring down any political threat to itself. Even leaders having Army’s backing like Imran Khan, have ended up falling whenever they had attempted to restore some semblance of democracy in the political system.

Reforming the hybrid regime will require concerted efforts to strengthen democratic institutions, enforce fundamental rights, and promote transparency and accountability in governance. The erosion of democratic institutions and the widespread trampling of human rights must be addressed to ensure a successful transition to democracy. The security establishment must restrict itself to its constitutionally mandated role and refrain from interfering in the political process.

The Way Forward

Moving forward, the Shehbaz-led government in Pakistan faces a daunting task of navigating through a myriad of challenges, ranging from a fractured mandate, allegations of ballot rigging, crippling economic crisis and terror threat that demands unpopular measures. Despite the stabilizing efforts of the caretaker government, international credit rating agencies express scepticism about the new administration’s ability to secure an IMF bailout, given its perceived lack of mandate and legitimacy.

The choice of finance minister is the vital task before Sehbaz Sharif for tackling the failing economy. The government has to brace itself to take tough decisions, in order to secure the IMF bailout, being planned in the midst of Pakistan’s heavy foreign debt servicing obligations looming ahead.

The economic challenge is an imposing one, but the government should lookout for the opportunity in this crisis. The choice for the government is stark. It cannot sail the country out of the present storm employing the same old strategy — more borrowing, bailouts and accumulating greater debt while postponing reforms and creating no capacity to repay higher levels of debt. These methods will only guarantee another crisis down the road and do nothing to spur growth and investment or contain inflation.

It is true that no political party or military dictator has ever been able to address the structural economic issues, reflected by Pakistan’s continuous reliance on the IMF. But then, this is the test of leadership that awaits Shehbaz Sharif.

The question is, will Pakistan survive as a democratic country or will it succumb to economic pressures and terrorism to become yet another Islamic Emirate following Sharia laws?  

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Neelapu Shanti

is a New Delhi based International Affairs, Researcher, Writer, Journalist and an Indo-Afghan Analyst. MA in International Relations and Post Graduate in Journalism.

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