'Pathways to Power: 2024' will dive deep into the electoral processes, outcomes, and implications of various elections happening in the big election year of 2024.

A note from the editor

The Global Affairs section welcomes you to Pathways to Power: 2024!

2024 is a big year for elections, as around 49% of the world population will have the chance to cast a ballot in a national election. That is more voters than any other year in history. Every election is pivotal, and will set a stage to reshape political landscapes across continents.

Pathways to Power: 2024 will dive deep into the electoral processes, outcomes, and implications of various elections happening in 2024.

The second edition of Pathways to Power: 2024 is on Pakistan, where family dynasties, party logo disputes, and internet shutdowns, among many other chaotic events, have created turmoil in this election.

Kangaroo courts, corruption, and coalitions: Pakistan looks set to form a new coalition government despite Imran Khan supporters winning a majority 

Nick Marshall

With family dynasties, candidates serving decades of jail time, and the return of exiled opposition – the Pakistani elections may have closed and been counted, but its fallout is far from over. Whilst neighbouring India has its film scene, nationwide internet and mobile service outages on election day provided a dramatic turn of events that even a Bollywood Blockbuster could not write. On the 8th of February, three days after voting, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) declared that independent candidates had won 102 seats in Pakistan’s 336-seat Qaumi Assembly. The majority of these independents are affiliated with Imran Khan’s Party ‘Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’ (PTI), despite the party itself being banned from officially running in the election.

The national conservative ‘Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz Party’ (PMLN), headed by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, came second with 73 seats, and the progressive ‘Pakistan People’s Party’ (PPP), won 54 seats. None of the parties won an outright majority of 169 seats, hence they will be unable to form a government by themselves. This has allowed for speculation as to who the country’s next Prime Minister will be. Thus far, it seems that the PMLN and PPP will work together to increase their strength in the Assembly and are all set for a coalition government.

Nawaz Sharif
Tasnim News Agency, CC BY 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The context of the Pakistani elections is complex to say the least, and requires far more intricacies than this article has space for, so, for simplicity, this article will focus on the two major candidates and their rise to power.

The office of prime minister was created with immediate effect after the partition of the Indian subcontinent by the British, and the subsequent establishment of Pakistan on 14th August 1947. Over the next 76 years, Pakistan would never see a prime minister complete their full five-year term, with the shortest tenure being only 13 days in 1971. One thing that has, however, maintained power through much of the history of Pakistan is its military. Civil governance in Pakistan had never lasted longer than eleven years before the ending of the last military coup in 2009, with three military coups in its relatively short history. Unlike in many other coups, however, the military largely has the backing of the Pakistani population, and the approval ratings of notable military leaders are much higher than that of any politician. Even today, where the military has not intervened in domestic politics for over a decade, it has cooperated more with Islamabad’s civilian leaders and has been suggested to be behind various decisions in the country’s domestic politics. Hence, it is important to understand how the military plays a key role in determining much of Pakistan’s political outcomes.

The first major event in shaping Pakistan’s current political landscape occurred in 1990 when the conservatives of the PMLN came to power for the first time. They were headed by Nawaz Sharif, a businessman born into Lahore’s Sharif family dynasty that owns large Pakistani conglomerates in steel and agriculture. In total, Sharif completed three non-consecutive prime ministerial terms from 1990-93, 1997-99, and 2013-17, being removed each time for a variety of corruption cases. This includes the loss of 700,000 people’s savings across Punjab and Kashmir that were later found to be diverted into Nawaz’s steel mill in 1993; his near-miss with execution by the military in Pakistan’s 1999 coup; and dismissal from office in 2017 over disclosures in the Panama Papers leak in July 2017. Sharif served 12 months of a 7-year sentence over his corruption charges and then fled to London for medical treatment in November 2019, before self-declaring exile for the next 4 years. In 2023, Sharif made a return to Pakistan that was likely brokered by the powerful military, which had recently cracked down on Imran Khan’s government following their souring relations. Sharif’s return was immensely covered by journalists, and he returned declaring ‘we are completely ready for elections.’

World Economic Forum, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In Sharif’s first term as prime minister, Pakistan won their first and only Cricket World Cup title – a strange point to start with in an article about elections, but bear with me. This team was captained by Imran Khan, who decided to depart from the cricket world and embark on a political career following his sudden rise in popularity. He founded the PTI in 1996, eventually leading him to win a seat in the Qaumi Assembly in 2002, and later became a prominent populist prime minister from 2018-2022. On 8th March 2022, the opposition submitted a motion of no confidence against him to the Qaumi Assembly’s secretariat under the banner of the ‘Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). Khan would go on to claim the motion of no confidence was a coup attempt by the United States that became known as the ‘Lettergate’ scandal.

After the successful no-confidence motion, the coalition PDM government was sworn in and  Shehbaz Sharif (does the surname sound familiar?) became prime minister until August 2023. His tenure became infamous for record inflation and a devaluation of the Pakistani rupee despite support from the Pakistani military. This same month, Khan was incarcerated on corruption charges in Rawalpindi. The PTI stated these decisions came from ‘kangaroo courts’ due to the trial’s procedural irregularities and rushed nature. Other cases since have now sentenced Khan to a total of 14 years alongside his wife, Bushra Bibi, which some observers see as a move by the military to keep Khan out of power.

Now we arrive at 2024, and the United Nations and Human Rights Watch begin to express concerns over pre-vote rigging by both the PMLN and PTI. The PTI has allegedly disrupted campaigning events and arbitrarily arrested supporters of opposition parties to rig the vote in their favour. On the other hand, the PMLN has been accused of gerrymandering, the process of changing electoral borders to increase representation of a party in government, by redrawing voter maps which generated a record 1,300 complaints.

boellstiftung – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The PTI had also complained about the banning of a cricket bat as the logo for PTI-affiliated politicians on the ballots following the disqualification of the party from officially running in the election. This may seem minor but carries far more political weight in Pakistan as approximately 40% of the population is illiterate. Therefore, these graphic changes make it difficult for voters to know which candidates were formerly affiliated with Khan’s party and policies. In some cases, these have controversially been changed to bottles and eggplants, which carry suggestions of alcohol consumption and explicit sexual themes in a majority Sunni-Muslim country.

The Election Day was, naturally, not exempt from political drama with violence reported both during voting and in the demonstrations that followed poll closure. Only ten minutes before voting opened on Thursday, the interior ministry suspended mobile internet services across the country, citing recent acts of terrorism, making it difficult for residents to book taxis to go and vote or communicate with family to organise trips to the polls. As a result, many analysts have stated that this election is amongst the least credible in the history of Pakistan, with Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron declaring ‘serious concerns’ over the ‘lack of inclusivity of the elections.’

When asked what he thought about the election’s integrity, Sharif declared they were ‘absolutely fair.’ The PTI has called on party workers and supporters to protest outside polling offices in constituencies where party members say election results were ’withheld and delayed.’ As a result, Islamabad has imposed Section 114 in the city that allows for police to take legal action against any illegal assemblies and activities.

Now, Sharif and PMLN, alongside the PPP will be working to secure the support from independent candidates that initially sided with Imran Khan and the PTI. With protests from Lahore to Balochistan only a matter of days after the election took place, it already seems that the government is in for a difficult 2024 and PMLN tenure. Whether the new prime minister can beat the curse that plagues Pakistan’s five-year terms seems unlikely, and mounting international and internal pressure may drive national security further from any hopes of political stability.

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