Political Chaos in Pakistan’s 2024 Election: Challenges Ahead
Dr Angana Kotokey, Research Associate, VIF
Introduction

Pakistan has witnessed yet another controversial election, marked by claims of rigged voting, violence (during pre-and post-polling), and interference from the deep state. Despite the inauguration of the 16th National Assembly session that began on the 29th of February, the post-election political dynamic in Pakistan brims with uncertainties. The ambiguities ranging from legal challenges for the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), a weak coalition, and potential future protests across the country by the PTI and smaller political parties—which are all set to bring in more chaos in Pakistan than expected by the establishment.

The following article will highlight the post-election scenario in Pakistan and the challenges ahead for the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML N)-led coalition government in the country.

Overview of the Election Results in Pakistan

Despite claims by the international community on the lack of transparency of the polling conducted in Pakistan due to delay in declaring the results, the voter turnout was recorded at 47.6 percent, lower than in 2018 when 52.1 percent of voters cast the ballot. [1] It has been reported that 128 million people were registered to vote in the Pakistan election, 23.5 million more than the 2018 elections. [2] An important feature of the elections was that 44 percent of the voters, or around 58 million belonged to the age group of 18-35—the highest percentage of young people casting votes in Pakistan’s electoral history. [3] In this election, 167 political parties registered to contest 265 seats at the National Assembly (NA), and another 60 seats were reserved for women and 10 for minorities.

According to Pakistani newspapers, initial results from 265 NA constituencies showed that the PTI-backed independent candidates won more than 101 seats followed by PML (N) with 75 and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) winning 54 seats for the NA. [4] Meanwhile, regarding the Provincial Assemblies (PA), the PTI-backed independent candidates secured most of the seats in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly. They obtained 138 seats in the Punjab Assembly, while the PML (N) secured 137 seats in Punjab and the PPP secured 84 seats in the Sindh Assembly that remains the party’s traditional stronghold. [5]

Results from 265 national constituencies showed that the PTI-backed independents won more seats than the PML-N and the PPP. If both the official and unofficial data are taken into consideration regarding the performance of these mainstream political parties, it can be concluded that the overall performance of the PML (N) in this election has gone down when compared with the 2018 elections, while the PPP performed better. The PTI-backed independent candidates after denial of its election symbol by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) returned as the majority bloc.

Concerning several regional and religious political parties who participated in this election, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) won 17 seats in the NA and 28 in the Sindh PA; Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan (Fazl) got 4 seats and Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid e Azam Group) secured 3 seats in the NA. [6] The Balochistan National Party and Balochistan Awami Party were successful in obtaining three and one seat respectively. Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party, the party that split from the PTI after the 9 May riots in Islamabad secured for themselves two seats in the NA. [7] Pashtun Nationalist parties namely- Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party and Pakhtunkhwa National Awami Party got one seat each. The sectarian Shi ‘a party, Majlis Wahadat-e-Muslimeen won one seat at the NA. [8]

The performance of the religious political parties in this election has not been significant as they remain unsuccessful in getting a substantial number of votes which indicates that their electoral appeal has considerably declined. It was only in the 2002 elections when the ‘war on terror’ campaign and the rising feeling of anti-Americanism were capitalized by religious parties to win elections and form governments in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. Since then, it seems religious-political parties have failed to capture the imagination of Pakistani voters. [9]

Despite uncertainties and delays, on the 29th of February 2024, the 16th National Assembly session began in Pakistan after several notable leaders from the PML (N), PPP, and JUI (F) along with PTI leaders Gohar Ali Khan and Omar Ayub sworn in the National Assembly. [10] According to a notification issued by the National Assembly Secretariat, the new parliament would elect the next Prime Minister on the 4th of March 2024. [11] PML-N has announced the name of Shehbaz Sharif for the post of Prime Minister, who has the support of the PPP, MQM-P and other smaller parties. On the other hand, PTI announced the name of Omar Ayub Khan as the candidate to compete against Shehbaz Sharif for the post of the PM. [12]

The Post-Election Political Chaos in Pakistan

The background to the post-election chaos in Pakistan goes back to the pre-polling days when the state apparatus used all coercive measures to impose restrictions on the PTI considering that the party without its name and the election symbol will become irrelevant in the elections. Despite the internet shutdown on the day of polling in Pakistan followed by reports of rigging, the PTI-backed independent candidates to everyone’s surprise came out as the single largest bloc in this election. [13] The legitimacy of the PML (N) led coalition government in Pakistan is being questioned after PTI and several other regional parties like the Awami National Party, Pakhtunkhwa National Awami Party, including Mohsin Dawar from the National Democratic Movement [14] claimed potential rigging and has called for a nationwide protest in the country to restore back the people’s mandate. [15] Further, the legitimacy has also come under question after Pakistan Newspaper Dawn reported that Liaqat Ali Chattha, commissioner of Rawalpindi asserted that the results of the February 8 general elections were manipulated under his watch. [16] Even international actors like the US and UK governments have called for an investigation into purported irregularities. In addition, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres has also expressed concern and urged all election disputes to be legally resolved. [17] There is a probability that such statements would make the post-election scenario in Pakistan much more chaotic and also unpredictable.

The PTI’s claims to form the next government in Pakistan got severely hampered after the party failed to secure the reserved seats for women and minorities. The PTI planned to capture its share of women’s and minorities’ reserved seats by initially agreeing to ally with the MWM and Jamat-e-Islami in the NA, KP, and Punjab legislatures. On the 19th of February 2024, almost all PTI-backed winning independent candidates of national and provincial assemblies submitted affidavits to the Election Commission to officially join the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) which helped the latter, to become the largest party in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. [18] Further, the alliance between them has helped the PTI to win 93 seats in the National Assembly. [19] Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, PTI interim Chief further said that with the help of the SIC, the PTI-backed independents claim their share of reserved seats in Punjab and KP and will form government in these two provinces after fulfilling electoral watchdog’s requirements. [20] On 1st of March 2024, PTI leader Ali Amin Gandapur, who is backed by the Sunni Ittehad Council, has been elected as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister after securing 90 votes from the members of the new provincial assembly. [21] However, the problem that arises with such alliance is that the PTI-backed independents would come under the discipline of the parent party, potentially leading to compromises on their ability to act according to the policies and plans of the PTI, which might cause future problems between the parties. [22]

Another political disorder might appear in the form of the PML (N) led coalition struggling to influence strong provincial governments. Securing the cooperation of provincial governments, each likely to be headed by different political parties will be far from easy. [23] With a fragmented mandate, the coalition might struggle to rein in strong provincial administrations grappling with political and financial challenges. [24] A foreseeable discord between the federation and provinces might affect consensus on vital issues including the NFC Award, irrigation water, as well as provincial subjects such as healthcare, education, properties, lands, and mineral resources. [25]

Moreover, if the PTI fails to turn the tables in its favour in the National Assembly in the coming months, the party as a strong opposition will get involved in leading nationwide protests against the rigging of votes with other like-minded smaller parties that might cause trouble in carrying out future parliamentary proceedings and spell more instability by obstructing the business of an already fragile coalition. [26]

A Weak Coalition or a Stable Economy?

Pakistan has been in a state of economic turmoil in recent years, struggling with dwindling foreign currency reserves that will be further strained by a $1 billion bond payment due in two months, while its $3 billion stop-gap funding programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expires on April 12, 2024. [27] The recently concluded Pakistan elections will add more political instability if the five-party coalition turns out to be a weaker one in the face of any future internal rift between the PML (N) and the PPP. [28] The PML-N will be heavily reliant on the PPP in this coalition for making all the necessary decisions for the country and any discomfort in opinions on economic policies might delay the successful implementation of policies. Further, the government will also struggle to secure consensus on politically sensitive reforms, from expanding the tax base to privatizing loss-making state-owned enterprises. [29]

Pakistan’s economy which is heavily dependent on foreign remittances—is likely to be impacted by a government that lacks public legitimacy. It has been observed that Pakistan’s foreign workers in Saudi Arabia and the UAE are the biggest contributors to remittance inflows but the political uncertainty in Pakistan since the 8th of February has triggered hesitancy on the part of overseas Pakistanis who have raised concerns about continued economic fragility and what they perceive as a stolen mandate from those who won the election. [30] Moreover, the efforts related to reviving the economy might get disrupted after the former Prime Minister Imran Khan has asked the IMF to ensure an audit of the disputed Feb. 8 elections to be carried out before any more bailout talks with Islamabad. [31]

Therefore, having a strong government at the centre has become the prerequisite for negotiating on extending the funding program with the IMF to manage $25-$30 billion of annual external debt obligations. [32] It has been often discussed by policymakers and scholars that Shehbaz Sharif who has begun his second term as Pakistan’s Prime Minister is the Pakistan Army’s primary choice considering the key role he played in securing the last IMF deal in June 2023 by personally negotiating with the international organization’s Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva. [33]

Moreover, the economy of Pakistan now depends on the new weak coalition government’s competence in appointing an empowered Finance Minister who can encourage the IMF and Pakistan’s partners to move quickly to provide the assistance the country needs to keep its economy stable.

The Way Forward

After several lawmakers who have taken their oaths on the 29th of February in Pakistan’s 16th National Assembly, a coalition of five political parties has formed the government in Pakistan.[34] After the formation of PML-N and the PPP the coalition government, the PTI is well positioned to challenge the electoral results inside the parliament with its sizable representation. [35] After Ali Amin Gandapur got elected as the CM of KP, his first remarks lamented the “injustice and cruelty” imposed on party leadership, including Imran Khan and party workers and gave a deadline of one week to quash first information reports (FIRs) against PTI workers. [36] All this is likely to create more political chaos in Pakistan in the coming months. Finally, it needs to be remembered that no matter who comes to power in Pakistan, the coalition will be dependent on the Army for its survival. The Pakistan Army has once again come out as the real power behind the throne in the Pakistan’s general election in 2024.

References

[1] https://www.deccanherald.com/world/pakistanpolls-witnessed-476-turnout-election-observer-body-2895103
[2] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/9/pakistan-election-2024-live-results
[3] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/8/pakistan-voting-ends-results-expected-soon-amid-charges-of-manipulation
[4] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/pakistan-electoral-body-delays-notifying-results-of-majority-of-pti-backed-independents-voters-express-concern/articleshow/107799155.cms?from=mdr
[5] https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2024/02/11/general-polls-2024-independents-dominate-with-100-na-90-kp-assembly-seats/
[6] Ibid
[7] https://www.deccanherald.com/world/pakistanpolls-witnessed-476-turnout-election-observer-body-2895103
[8] https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2024/02/11/general-polls-2024-independents-dominate-with-100-na-90-kp-assembly-seats/
[9] https://www.arabnews.pk/node/2454796
[10] https://www.dawn.com/live/elections-2024#1818019
[11] https://indianexpress.com/article/pakistan/pakistan-elected-parliament-protests-imran-khan-9188802/
[12] https://thefridaytimes.com/29-Feb-2024/old-members-new-slogans-16th-national-assembly-commences-amid-ruckus
[13] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/feb/11/protests-pakistan-election-vote-rigging-allegations-imran-khan
[14] Mohsin Dawar and his supporters were protesting alleged voting irregularities in their constituency during Pakistan's February 8 general elections when security forces opened fire on them. (https://www.rferl.org/a/pakistan-candidates-challenging-elections-results/32819715.html)
[15] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/17/pakistan-official-admits-involvement-in-rigging-election-results
[16] https://www.dawn.com/news/1814959
[17] https://www.chathamhouse.org/2024/02/has-pakistans-new-coalition-government-been-handed-poisoned-chalice
[18] https://www.samaa.tv/2087310106-with-90-pti-backed-members-sic-becomes-largest-party-in-KP
[19] https://www.dawn.com/news/1816169
[20] With the help of the SIC, the PTI-backed independents claim their share of reserved seats in Punjab and KP and form government in these two provinces after fulfilling the electoral watchdog’s requirements.
[21] https://www.samaa.tv/2087310612-ali-amin-gandapur-elected-as-khyber-pakhtunkhwa-chief-minister
[22] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/13/pakistan-election-can-imran-khans-winning-candidates-form-a-government
[23] https://www.chathamhouse.org/2024/02/has-pakistans-new-coalition-government-been-handed-poisoned-chalice
[24] https://tribune.com.pk/story/2457911/election-2024-and-after
[25] Ibid
[26] https://www.chathamhouse.org/2024/02/has-pakistans-new-coalition-government-been-handed-poisoned-chalice
[27] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/pakistan-may-face-more-economic-misery-if-election-result-unclear-2024-02-09/
[28] https://www.dw.com/en/pakistan-challenges-ahead-for-new-coalition-government/a-68266236
[29] Ibid
[30] https://www.mei.edu/publications/pakistans-election-and-whats-next
[31] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/imran-khans-party-urges-imf-consider-pakistans-instability-talks-sources-2024-02-28/
[32] https://www.mei.edu/publications/pakistans-election-and-whats-next
[33] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/6/22/pakistan-pm-sharif-requests-imf-release-1-1bn-tranche
[34] https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/Pakistan-elections/Pakistan-National-Assembly-opens-as-election-disputes-mar-proceedings
[35] https://www.voanews.com/a/pakistan-parties-still-trying-to-form-coalition-government-/7494143.html
[36] https://www.dawn.com/live/elections-2024#1818275
(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: https://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2023/12/06/perfectly-imperfect-elections/

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