Rigged elections in Pakistan: What’s next for the near-failed state?

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Uncertainty has swamped Pakistan as allegations of poll rigging overshadowed the country as it entered third day of counting of votes in its general elections 2024. So far, candidates backed by the party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan are leading the race, while their leader remains in jail. The Election Commission had barred the PTI leaders from using the party symbol of Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf (PTI) in the general elections so they had to contest on different symbols.

The PTI-backed candidates have won the lion’s share of 92 seats in the 266-member assembly, while Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has maintained a lead on 71 seats. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is leading with 54, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 17, as the result of 255 seats out of 265 announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan. For Pakistan elections 2024 LIVE updates, click here.

Both Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif have claimed victory but none have come even closer to crossing the majority. To form a government, a party must win 133 out of the 265 seats in the National Assembly. Election to one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate.

Also Read: Why an election upset in Pakistan could mean for India

The PML-N had been expected to win the most seats following Thursday’s vote, with analysts saying its 74-year-old founder Nawaz Sharif had the blessing of the military-led establishment. It is also alleged that the military, the most-powerful institution in Pakistan, has been instrumental in playing a key role in making and breaking governments. Imran Khan, who enjoys a backing from the people, has accused the military of a crackdown on him and his party; the military has denied this.

Regardless of which party or coalition assumes power, there is unlikely to be a honeymoon period, given that the country headed to the polls amidst economic instability with soaring inflation and depleting foreign reserves. Some analysts have listed what awaits Pakistan as the country is headed to a hung Assembly:

“The new government must make rapid and revolutionary changes in the tax system and administration, including imposing an income tax on agricultural income, slashing subsidies, dissolving state-owned enterprises, reducing the military’s economic footprint…and reducing unproductive expenditures, especially on real estate,” Shuja Nawaz, founding director of the South Asia Center of the Atlantic Council, writes.

Farieha Aziz, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center, has pointed at the internet shutdown during the counting of the votes, while highlighting that “every shutdown causes large economic losses.” Journalist Arifa Noor has said that of Nawaz Sharif’s party takes over the reins of Pakistan with multiple allies, it would be staring at a “weak” government.

“The new government will also have to grapple with a legitimacy crisis as well as security and economic challenges. The Tehreek-e Taliban has re-emerged, better equipped and more savvy. And the political engineering in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa might deprive the military of much-needed support from the people of the province. The growing gap between the populace and state has already led to a protracted insurgency in Balochistan. The next IMF program will come with harsh conditions, including demands to restructure Pakistan’s sovereign debt, which will prove difficult if not impossible for an unnatural coalition. The military will have its hands full governing from behind the scenes as well as running the economy and managing security,” she writes.

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Published: 10 Feb 2024, 07:54 PM IST

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