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Pakistan Election 2024: Who’s Contesting, What’s at Stake & Why the Delay?

While anticipated victor Nawaz Sharif returned from exile, former PM Imran Khan remains imprisoned ahead of polling.

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(This article was first published on 31 January 2024. It has been reposted from The Quint's archives as Pakistan is set to go to the polls on Thursday, 8 February.)

In an unprecedented period for Pakistan, the South Asian country prepares for its third consecutive civilian parliamentary election without a prime minister finishing their term, marred by allegations of military interference. and controversies.

A caretaker government led by Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar has been running the country since parliament was dissolved on 9 August and has a mandate to ensure the holding of a transparent election.

Less than a month before Pakistan holds its 12th general elections on February 8, the anticipated victor is Nawaz Sharif, the three-time former PM recently returned from self-imposed exile.

Despite facing corruption charges before the 2018 election, Sharif's legal issues seem to have dissipated, leading to speculation that he is now preferred as a leader by Pakistan's Army establishment, compared to Imran Khan, who has seemingly lost favour.

However, with the country’s main opposition party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and its leader, former Prime Minister Imran Khan, having faced months of a nationwide crackdown, concerns have been raised about whether the caretaker government and the ECP can hold fair elections.

Importantly, the election comes when Pakistan faces a deteriorating security situation in the country, an economic meltdown, which has caused a balance-of-payments crisis and skyrocketed inflation, and a tense internal political situation.

Pakistan Election 2024: Who’s Contesting, What’s at Stake & Why the Delay?

  1. 1. The Candidates: (Not) Imran Khan 

    Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have faced challenges, to say the least, in the aftermath of Khan's removal as Prime Minister in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.

    The cricketer-turned-politician has been shot, is being tried in cases connected to 180 charges ranging from rioting to terrorism, and is being incarcerated following the Toshakhana corruption conviction, accused of selling state gifts. Despite maintaining broad public support, the prospects of a political comeback for the 71-year-old seem tenuous.

    A PTI member in Karachi, who spoke to The Quint requesting anonymity, said, “Pakistan's military is employing various tactics to sideline our chief and the party.”

    “They rejected his (Imran Khan’s) nomination papers, arrested thousands of our workers, forced our leaders to a place where they must resign, and have redrawn the constituencies to favour themselves.”

    Given that Imran Khan is serving a three-year jail term on a corruption conviction and was further sentenced to prison for 10 years in the state secrets case and 14 years in the Toshakhana case prior to the polls, the PTI lacks a prime ministerial face. But that is not all the PTI’s worries. In a significant setback, it has been prohibited from using its iconic cricket bat logo on ballot papers.

    Given that close to 40 percent of Pakistan's population lacks formal education, voters who are unable to read heavily depend on symbols to identify their preferred party on the ballot. Even among those who can read names, there is a significant reliance on party symbols.

    The ban not only hampers PTI's visibility but also effectively prevents the party from participating as a whole, forcing its candidates to run as independents, using a variety of symbols, including rollercoasters, goats, dice, and coins.

    Moreover, while Pakistani lawmakers are constitutionally obligated to vote along party lines on specific crucial matters, including the leader of the house and financial legislation, PTI-backed candidates officially standing as independents are not bound by such constraints, opening opportunities to build coalitions by targeting individual members.

    Furthermore, the PTI's inability to use its official symbol makes the party ineligible for its share of the parliamentary "reserved seats" allocated for women and minorities.

    Expand
  2. 2. The Candidates: Nawaz Sharif

    Three-time Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to his homeland in October 2023, ending a four-year self-exile in London after the nation’s Supreme Court reversed its six-year-old verdict disqualifying politicians found not to be “honest and righteous”.

    Sharif’s final term in office was marred by tumultuous events commencing with a then-opposition-led blockade of Islamabad and his eventual disqualification by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2017. This verdict followed extensive hearings prompted by the "Panama Papers" revelations relating to alleged corruption during his preceding two tenures.

    The former Prime Minister was convicted in absentia while he was in London tending to his ailing wife, Geo News reported. He was also slapped with a seven-year imprisonment and a PKR 1.5 billion fine on Sharif in the Al-Azizia sugar mills case.

    In October 2023, Sharif was granted protective bail in two corruption cases, and an accountability court suspended his arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case, clearing all legal obstacles for his seamless return to the country. He was granted interim bail in the sugar mills case on medical grounds in 2019.

    The focal points of the manifesto presented by former Nawaz Sharif's party revolve around revitalising Pakistan's economy, fostering peace with India, addressing climate change, and adopting a zero-tolerance stance against terrorism.

    Within the manifesto, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pledges to extend a "message of peace" to neighbouring countries, including India, contingent on New Delhi reversing its actions in Kashmir, like the abrogation of Article 370. Other key agendas include ensuring a "secured water future" and boosting the economy through increased exports.

    The PML-N also commits to enhancing youth representation in national politics across parliamentary, provincial, and local government levels.

    Additionally, the manifesto outlines a plan for comprehensive constitutional, legal, judicial, and administrative reforms, pledges to combat violence against minorities, modernise agriculture, empower women for independence, and introduce a new labour policy to safeguard their rights.

    Among the promises are the abolition of the National Accountability Bureau and the introduction of comprehensive amendments to the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, and Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, to standardise procedural laws.

    Expand
  3. 3. The Candidates: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

    35-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a former Foreign Minister and scion of a family that has produced two Prime Ministers is advocating for new ideas and leadership to address the political and economic instability in the nation.

    As the son of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in 2007, and the grandson of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, executed by a military dictator in 1979, Bhutto Zardari carries the legacy of a revered political family of Pakistan.

    If he were to win the election, Bhutto Zardari could enter office just 25 days short of his mother's age when she assumed office in 1988. But despite the historical significance of his family, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Bhutto Zardari has faced challenges from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the ongoing political battle.

    In positioning himself as an alternative to the established contenders, Bhutto Zardari has urged supporters of Imran Khan to vote for him but also ruled out alliances with either Sharif or Khan, expressing a preference for forming a government with independent candidates.

    The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) launched its manifesto, titled 'Chuno Nai Soch Ko' (Choose New Thinking), asserting itself as the "only party" with a comprehensive plan to address poverty, unemployment, and inflation in the financially strained country.

    The PPP's manifesto pledges to double the real incomes of wage earners through a focus on growth, investments, and job creation as immediate priorities, emphasising its concentration on poverty alleviation and the well-being of the working and lower classes, the manifesto addresses healthcare facilities, education, food security, and women's empowerment.

    The PPP's housing policy recognises housing as a right, with a commitment to providing homeownership for the most vulnerable, including the poor, landless, and working classes.

    The manifesto also includes specific provisions for women, youth, farmers (such as subsidies for urea and crop insurance) and small loans for poor women through the Waseela-e-Haq program.

    As part of its 10-point agenda preceding the manifesto release, the PPP promised free solar energy of 300 units for the poor, green energy parks for every district and free health services across Pakistan.

    Expand
  4. 4. Why the Delay in Polls?

    General elections in Pakistan were initially scheduled to take place within 90 days following the premature dissolution of the National Assembly on 10 August 2023 by President Arif Alvi, based on the advice of then-PM Shehbaz Sharif. Accordingly, elections were expected to occur by 8 November 2023.

    However, due to the approval of the results of the 2023 digital census, the elections faced a delay, given that the government cited the need for fresh delimitation of constituencies based on the census results. Effectively, elections were slated for February 2024.

    Despite the earlier concerns and speculation about potential postponements, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued a statement emphasising that the elections could not be postponed and that the date was set after consultations with President Alvi.

    A singular concern remained orders to change party symbols ahead of the crucial elections, for which the body said: "If the process…continues in the same way, there is a fear of election delay because the ballot papers will have to be reprinted for which time is already limited and on the other hand, the special paper available for the ballot papers will also be lost.”

    Expand
  5. 5. Army, Economic Troubles Continue to Brew 

    For over three decades in the 76-year history of Pakistan as an independent nation, the influential military establishment has wielded substantial control. Even when the military was not officially in power, it faced accusations of extensive interference in political affairs. The country witnessed direct military governance through coups d'état led by Generals Ayub Khan (1958-1969), Yahya Khan (1969-1971), Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988), and Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008).

    In instances when the military is not directly in charge, it continues to shape the political landscape through political engineering, influencing the selection and rise to power of specific political parties.

    In a notable acknowledgement during his farewell address in November 2022, former Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa openly recognised the military's pivotal role in facilitating Imran Khan's ascent to power after the removal of Nawaz Sharif.

    However, the upcoming election goes beyond military influence as Pakistan grapples with significant security and economic challenges.

    Recent missile and drone attacks by Iran on the Pakistani-Iranian border, targeting the terrorist group Jaish-Al-Adl, have heightened tensions. Pakistan condemned the attack as a violation of its sovereignty and responded with military strikes in Iran.

    Additionally, Pakistan faces threats from terrorist attacks originating in Afghanistan, where the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) seeks to establish Taliban rule in Pakistan.

    The country is also grappling with economic challenges, including soaring inflation of around 30 percent, frequent power shortages, declining exports, remittances, and foreign direct investment.

    As the world's fifth most populous country and a nuclear-armed nation, Pakistan navigates a complex landscape marked by economic difficulties and political instability.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

The Candidates: (Not) Imran Khan 

Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party have faced challenges, to say the least, in the aftermath of Khan's removal as Prime Minister in a no-confidence vote in April 2022.

The cricketer-turned-politician has been shot, is being tried in cases connected to 180 charges ranging from rioting to terrorism, and is being incarcerated following the Toshakhana corruption conviction, accused of selling state gifts. Despite maintaining broad public support, the prospects of a political comeback for the 71-year-old seem tenuous.

A PTI member in Karachi, who spoke to The Quint requesting anonymity, said, “Pakistan's military is employing various tactics to sideline our chief and the party.”

“They rejected his (Imran Khan’s) nomination papers, arrested thousands of our workers, forced our leaders to a place where they must resign, and have redrawn the constituencies to favour themselves.”

Given that Imran Khan is serving a three-year jail term on a corruption conviction and was further sentenced to prison for 10 years in the state secrets case and 14 years in the Toshakhana case prior to the polls, the PTI lacks a prime ministerial face. But that is not all the PTI’s worries. In a significant setback, it has been prohibited from using its iconic cricket bat logo on ballot papers.

Given that close to 40 percent of Pakistan's population lacks formal education, voters who are unable to read heavily depend on symbols to identify their preferred party on the ballot. Even among those who can read names, there is a significant reliance on party symbols.

The ban not only hampers PTI's visibility but also effectively prevents the party from participating as a whole, forcing its candidates to run as independents, using a variety of symbols, including rollercoasters, goats, dice, and coins.

Moreover, while Pakistani lawmakers are constitutionally obligated to vote along party lines on specific crucial matters, including the leader of the house and financial legislation, PTI-backed candidates officially standing as independents are not bound by such constraints, opening opportunities to build coalitions by targeting individual members.

Furthermore, the PTI's inability to use its official symbol makes the party ineligible for its share of the parliamentary "reserved seats" allocated for women and minorities.

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The Candidates: Nawaz Sharif

Three-time Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif returned to his homeland in October 2023, ending a four-year self-exile in London after the nation’s Supreme Court reversed its six-year-old verdict disqualifying politicians found not to be “honest and righteous”.

Sharif’s final term in office was marred by tumultuous events commencing with a then-opposition-led blockade of Islamabad and his eventual disqualification by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2017. This verdict followed extensive hearings prompted by the "Panama Papers" revelations relating to alleged corruption during his preceding two tenures.

The former Prime Minister was convicted in absentia while he was in London tending to his ailing wife, Geo News reported. He was also slapped with a seven-year imprisonment and a PKR 1.5 billion fine on Sharif in the Al-Azizia sugar mills case.

In October 2023, Sharif was granted protective bail in two corruption cases, and an accountability court suspended his arrest warrant in the Toshakhana case, clearing all legal obstacles for his seamless return to the country. He was granted interim bail in the sugar mills case on medical grounds in 2019.

The focal points of the manifesto presented by former Nawaz Sharif's party revolve around revitalising Pakistan's economy, fostering peace with India, addressing climate change, and adopting a zero-tolerance stance against terrorism.

Within the manifesto, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) pledges to extend a "message of peace" to neighbouring countries, including India, contingent on New Delhi reversing its actions in Kashmir, like the abrogation of Article 370. Other key agendas include ensuring a "secured water future" and boosting the economy through increased exports.

The PML-N also commits to enhancing youth representation in national politics across parliamentary, provincial, and local government levels.

Additionally, the manifesto outlines a plan for comprehensive constitutional, legal, judicial, and administrative reforms, pledges to combat violence against minorities, modernise agriculture, empower women for independence, and introduce a new labour policy to safeguard their rights.

Among the promises are the abolition of the National Accountability Bureau and the introduction of comprehensive amendments to the Civil Procedure Code, 1908, and Criminal Procedure Code, 1898, to standardise procedural laws.

0

The Candidates: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari

35-year-old Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a former Foreign Minister and scion of a family that has produced two Prime Ministers is advocating for new ideas and leadership to address the political and economic instability in the nation.

As the son of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in 2007, and the grandson of former Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, executed by a military dictator in 1979, Bhutto Zardari carries the legacy of a revered political family of Pakistan.

If he were to win the election, Bhutto Zardari could enter office just 25 days short of his mother's age when she assumed office in 1988. But despite the historical significance of his family, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) led by Bhutto Zardari has faced challenges from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the ongoing political battle.

In positioning himself as an alternative to the established contenders, Bhutto Zardari has urged supporters of Imran Khan to vote for him but also ruled out alliances with either Sharif or Khan, expressing a preference for forming a government with independent candidates.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) launched its manifesto, titled 'Chuno Nai Soch Ko' (Choose New Thinking), asserting itself as the "only party" with a comprehensive plan to address poverty, unemployment, and inflation in the financially strained country.

The PPP's manifesto pledges to double the real incomes of wage earners through a focus on growth, investments, and job creation as immediate priorities, emphasising its concentration on poverty alleviation and the well-being of the working and lower classes, the manifesto addresses healthcare facilities, education, food security, and women's empowerment.

The PPP's housing policy recognises housing as a right, with a commitment to providing homeownership for the most vulnerable, including the poor, landless, and working classes.

The manifesto also includes specific provisions for women, youth, farmers (such as subsidies for urea and crop insurance) and small loans for poor women through the Waseela-e-Haq program.

As part of its 10-point agenda preceding the manifesto release, the PPP promised free solar energy of 300 units for the poor, green energy parks for every district and free health services across Pakistan.

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Why the Delay in Polls?

General elections in Pakistan were initially scheduled to take place within 90 days following the premature dissolution of the National Assembly on 10 August 2023 by President Arif Alvi, based on the advice of then-PM Shehbaz Sharif. Accordingly, elections were expected to occur by 8 November 2023.

However, due to the approval of the results of the 2023 digital census, the elections faced a delay, given that the government cited the need for fresh delimitation of constituencies based on the census results. Effectively, elections were slated for February 2024.

Despite the earlier concerns and speculation about potential postponements, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) issued a statement emphasising that the elections could not be postponed and that the date was set after consultations with President Alvi.

A singular concern remained orders to change party symbols ahead of the crucial elections, for which the body said: "If the process…continues in the same way, there is a fear of election delay because the ballot papers will have to be reprinted for which time is already limited and on the other hand, the special paper available for the ballot papers will also be lost.”

ADVERTISEMENTREMOVE AD

Army, Economic Troubles Continue to Brew 

For over three decades in the 76-year history of Pakistan as an independent nation, the influential military establishment has wielded substantial control. Even when the military was not officially in power, it faced accusations of extensive interference in political affairs. The country witnessed direct military governance through coups d'état led by Generals Ayub Khan (1958-1969), Yahya Khan (1969-1971), Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988), and Pervez Musharraf (1999-2008).

In instances when the military is not directly in charge, it continues to shape the political landscape through political engineering, influencing the selection and rise to power of specific political parties.

In a notable acknowledgement during his farewell address in November 2022, former Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa openly recognised the military's pivotal role in facilitating Imran Khan's ascent to power after the removal of Nawaz Sharif.

However, the upcoming election goes beyond military influence as Pakistan grapples with significant security and economic challenges.

Recent missile and drone attacks by Iran on the Pakistani-Iranian border, targeting the terrorist group Jaish-Al-Adl, have heightened tensions. Pakistan condemned the attack as a violation of its sovereignty and responded with military strikes in Iran.

Additionally, Pakistan faces threats from terrorist attacks originating in Afghanistan, where the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) seeks to establish Taliban rule in Pakistan.

The country is also grappling with economic challenges, including soaring inflation of around 30 percent, frequent power shortages, declining exports, remittances, and foreign direct investment.

As the world's fifth most populous country and a nuclear-armed nation, Pakistan navigates a complex landscape marked by economic difficulties and political instability.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Pakistan Elections 

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