No Assembly session can be called without notifying reserved seats, says Imran Khan’s party

Jailed former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party on Feb. 27 said that no provincial Assembly session can be called without notifying the reserved seats, a day after the Assemblies of Punjab and Sindh were summoned and the Chief Ministers were sworn-in.

Speaking to the media in Islamabad, the 71-year-old Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party leader, Barrister Gohar Khan, said the new provincial Assemblies should be convened after all the members of the House are notified, the Dawn newspaper quoted him as saying.

“The Punjab [Assembly] session was carried out in an illegal manner. The Sindh Assembly session was carried out illegally. If the National Assembly session is called, that will also be illegal because the assemblies should be convened after all the members of the House are notified,” he said.

He urged the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to notify the reserved seats for the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), with which his party has entered a formal agreement.

Mr. Khan’s party could not directly participate in the February 8 general elections due to the non-allotment of its iconic electoral symbol — the cricket bat. To receive the party’s share of reserved seats, candidates of the PTI — who fought as independents and won the elections — formally joined the SIC.

The SIC is an alliance of Islamic political and religious parties in the Muslim-majority country, representing followers of the school of Sunni Islam.

The Election Commission of Pakistan will hold an open hearing on Feb. 26 of the PTI-backed SIC’s plea seeking the allocation of its share of reserved seats in the national and provincial Assemblies.

On Feb. 26, President Alvi rejected a summary from the caretaker Parliamentary Affairs Ministry to summon the first session of the newly elected National Assembly session on February 29.

Mr. Alvi maintained that all reserved seats be allocated before the summoning of the session in which newly-elected members of the National Assembly will take oath.

After the denial by Mr. Alvi — a close aide of PTI founder Khan and a former senior member of his party — National Assembly outgoing Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf decided to convene the lower House of Parliament session on February 29.

Meanwhile, the Punjab Assembly session on Feb. 26 saw the election of Maryam, the 50-year-old senior vice president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, as the first-ever woman Chief Minister of Pakistan’s most populous Province.

Later in the day in Sindh, senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader Murad Ali Shah was reelected as the new Chief Minister of the Province after securing 112 votes out of 148 total cast during voting for the coveted position.

Though independents backed by the PTI won majority seats at the National Assembly in the February 8 general election, the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have agreed on a power-sharing deal to form a new coalition government, which may effectively end Mr. Khan’s chances of returning to power.

Mr. Khan’s party has rejected the attempts by the PML-N and the PPP to form a coalition government, warning that robbing its public endorsement by the “mandate thieves” will result in the worst political instability.

Independent candidates — a majority backed by the PTI party — won 93 National Assembly seats.

The PML-N won 75 seats, while the PPP came third with 54 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) has 17 seats.

Imran Khan’s party to call ‘parallel’ Punjab Assembly session to elect CM, Speaker: report

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party plans to call a “parallel” Punjab Assembly session to elect the Chief Minister, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, claiming that newly-elected chief Minister Maryam Nawaz was in the House on “a stolen mandate”, a media report said on Feb. 27.

Ms. Nawaz, the 50-year-old senior Vice-President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party, made history by becoming the first-ever woman Chief Minister of Pakistan’s most populous Punjab Province after receiving 220 votes.

She defeated Rana Aftab of 71-year-old Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-backed Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC), who received no votes as his party boycotted the election.

Former-cricketer-turned-politician Khan’s PTI party made a call for a “parallel” Punjab Assembly on Monday after claiming a strength of 250 members, including reserved seats for women and minorities, the Dawn newspaper reported.

To win the Chief Minister’s election, a candidate needs to win the backing of the majority, which is 187 members in the House that currently has 327 seats.

Addressing a press conference, PTI’s central leader, Shaukat Basra, claimed that more than half of the elected Punjab Assembly members, including the newly elected Chief Minister Maryam, were in the House on “a stolen mandate”.

He claimed that Ms. Nawaz was defeated by a PTI-backed candidate, Mehr Sharafat, in Lahore’s PP-159 constituency, according to the report.

Asserting that the results were rigged to ensure the new Punjab Chief Minister’s victory, Mr. Basra said that Ms. Nawaz “won the election on February 9 instead of February 8”.

“PML-N leaders used to say they struck a deal with powers that be, but they failed to strike a deal with the people of Pakistan,” he said.

“This rigged election will result in anarchy,” the PTI leader said.

Claiming that the establishment was still requesting PTI founder Khan to become Prime Minister, Mr. Basra said, “But Mr. Khan is determined that the establishment should ensure the mandate given by the people of Pakistan to PTI-backed candidates be returned,” he said.

Separately, the party criticised Ms. Nawaz’s election as the Chief Minister of the politically crucial Punjab Province and said all democratic and constitutional norms were trampled to elect her.

In a statement, the party’s spokesperson claimed that police “imposed a curfew” outside the assembly to prevent PTI’s members and the nominee for Chief Minister from entering the assembly.

It claimed that the sanctity of the Punjab Assembly was violated by “stealing the public mandate” to bring a “defeated woman” to power.

The spokesperson said the people of Punjab “would not tolerate an insult to their mandate”, according to the report.

At least 103 lawmakers of the PTI-backed SIC staged a walkout after the SIC nominee for Chief Minister, Aftab, was not permitted to speak at the point of order.

The newly-elected Speaker, Malik Ahmad Khan, eventually moved forward with the proceedings to elect a new leader of the House after efforts to bring back the boycotting lawmakers went in vain.

The PML-N clinched both speaker and deputy speaker offices in the Punjab Assembly.

In a marathon session of the Punjab Assembly on Saturday, the lawmakers elected PML-N leader Malik Ahmad Khan as the custodian of the House and Zaheer Iqbal Channar as his deputy.

The PML-N won 137 seats, while independents backed by 71-year-old Khan’s PTI party won 113 in the Punjab Assembly. Separately, 20-odd independents, not PTI-backed, have already joined the PML-N.

Punjab is the most populous Province of Pakistan, home to 120 million people.

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Asif Ali Zardari | Return of the survivor

In the blood-smeared history of Pakistani politics, top leaders rarely emerge from prison unscathed. Deposed Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was imprisoned and hanged in Rawalpindi district jail. His daughter Benazir Bhutto was in jail and had to leave the country, seeking medical treatment. She came back and got assassinated. Imran Khan is currently in jail and only the future will tell how his story will unfold.

But there is one leader who emerged stronger after multiple jail terms — Asif Ali Zardari, the undisputed leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the current head of the Zardari-Bhutto dynasty.

With a bit of help from destiny, Mr. Zardari, who had spent 11 years in jail in the past, could be the next President of the country as his party has sealed a deal with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which will hold the post of Prime Minister. This is not the first time Mr. Zardari’s destiny is being changed dramatically. On a wintry evening on December 27, 2007, an assassin’s bullet ended the life of Benazir Bhutto. Within hours, Mr. Zardari, who was then in Dubai with their three children, Bilawal, Bakhtawar and Asifa, was on a flight to Pakistan.


Also read: Bilawal Bhutto Zardari | His mother’s son 

At a meeting, of the central executive of the PPP in Naudero, Sindh, Mr. Zardari asked son Bilawal to read a ‘political will’ from Benazir that declared that “my husband Asif Ali Zardari” would lead the party in her absence. Bilawal was too young at 19 to inherit her legacy and, therefore, Mr. Zardari would take the reins. No one had heard of such a political will, not even Benazir’s old secretary Naheed Khan. Yet, the rule of Mr. Zardari was established over the PPP.

Mr. Zardari, a polo player from a family that was known for owning the Bambino cinema of Karachi, came into national limelight after his 1987 wedding to the then ‘daughter of the east’ Benazir Bhutto. The wedding was a memorable affair and was attended by political guests from different parts of South Asia and Europe.

Within months, the hands of destiny would alter the life of the couple when Gen. Zia ul Haq’s aircraft, Pak-1, mysteriously crashed in Bahawalpur, catapulting Benazir to her first prime ministerial stint. Benazir’s first (1988-’90) and second (1993-’96) tenures as PM were tumultuous as they coincided with the end of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, end of the Cold War and the intensification of the Kashmir crisis and cross-border terrorism in South Asia.

Two murders

In 1996, two murders took place that would shape the course of the Bhutto-Zardari destinies. On September 20, Murtaza Bhutto, elder brother of Benazir, was shot dead outside 70 Clifton, the residence where Zulfikar Ali Bhutto once lived. During the 1980s, the elder brother had led an international terrorist organisation called Al Zulfikar and lived for years in Syria and Libya, seeking revenge against Gen. Zia. The youngest of the Bhuttos, Shahnawaz, a leading commander of Al Zulfikar, was allegedly murdered in Nice, France, in 1985.

When Benazir became PM in 1988, Murtaza felt disinherited and developed a visceral dislike for his brother-in-law. On December 16, 1996, Mr. Zardari and Murtaza ended up flying in the same aircraft from Islamabad to Karachi. It was reported later that Murtaza’s body guards “kept glaring” at Mr. Zardari throughout the flight. That experience so terrified Mr. Zardari that instead of going to his house, he went to his father Hakim Ali Zardari’s house to seek safety. Two days later, Mr. Zardari, also known as ‘Mr 10 Percent’ because of corruption allegations, held a meeting with top officials to complain about Murtaza, which added to the allegations of his complicity in the murder of Murtaza.

The killings marked the beginning of the end of Benazir’s second term, which was replaced by a caretaker government in November 1996, paving the way for the 1997 election after which Nawaz Sharif became PM. Mr. Zardari first went to jail in 1990 on corruption charges and then again after the second term of Benazir, and was released in 2004. Mr. Zardari carved a political niche for himself within the party, starting with 1990 when he was elected to the National Assembly (NA) for the first time. He contested and won from jail and his release was one of the major issues for the PPP under Benazir and he later became Minister of Investment after Benazir returned to power in 1993.

As Benazir returned to Pakistan after nearly six years of exile in October 2007, Mr. Zardari gave her staff instruction to keep her safe as she was attacked within hours of her arrival. The military government of Gen. Pervez Musharraf blamed Baitullah Mehsud, leader of the Pakistani Taliban, for the attack but the evidences from the spot were allegedly cleared by authorities, creating a strong suspicion about the incident that took place on October 18, 2007. Mr. Zardari tracked his wife on live TV from Dubai and screamed orders to keep her safe. She was downstairs in the armoured bus that was specially prepared and therefore survived. On December 27, however, the assassins succeeded, prompting Mr. Zardari to take up the leadership role.

Mr. Zardari proved his survival instincts when he completed his five-year term as President of Pakistan. His tenure was jolted within months by the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and internal political tumult led by Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI). Mr. Khan built his movement on the anti-American sentiment that flourished in Pakistan because of the drone attacks against Taliban and al-Qaeda hideouts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but Mr. Zardari maintained a cautious silence on the issue of U.S.-Pakistan collaboration.

Backroom player

After his presidential term was over, Mr. Zardari indulged in backroom negotiations to maintain the party unity and presented himself as a veteran who is open to reconciliation. As the Imran Khan government came to a halt after his hurried February 24, 2022 visit to Moscow that coincided with the launch of Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine, Mr. Zardari once again found the playfield open for himself.

The election of 2024 has been controversial and marred by dramatic in-camera allegations of rigging. However, Pakistani politics is no stranger to rigging and Mr. Zardari himself knows it best as the election of 1997, which brought Nawaz Sharif to power, was bitterly criticised by his party at that time for alleged rigging. It remains to be seen if Imran Khan, who is in jail will, concede defeat and allow the new coalition government to start afresh, addressing the several challenges Pakistan is facing, including economic woes.

At the time of 2013 election, former Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira had asked the country to vote for reconciliation, ending the war with the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan’s present security situation is precarious as it deals with internal volatility and worsening ties with the Taliban in Kabul and Iran, with which it exchanged missiles in January. It’s doubtless that in the new formation, Mr. Zardari would stay as the tallest leader. But the challenges he would face may well be the toughest of his 33-year old political career.

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Shehbaz Sharif to be Pakistan PM, Zardari to be President

In a breakthrough that could end the political uncertainty in Pakistan, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party have agreed on a power-sharing deal to form a new coalition government after intense negotiations following a fractured poll verdict.

In a joint news conference late Tuesday night at Zardari House in Islamabad, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari announced that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shehbaz Sharif, 72, will assume the role of the Prime Minister once again.

Similarly, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, 68, will be the joint candidate for the president’s office.

Also Read | The illusion of change in Pakistan

“The PPP and PML-N have achieved the required number, and (now) we are in a position to form the government,” Mr. Bilawal told reporters without revealing the number of lawmakers they have in the National Assembly after the February 8 elections.

To form a government, a party must win 133 out of 265 contested seats in the 266-member National Assembly or the lower house of Parliament.

He said former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party-backed independent candidates and Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) failed to achieve a simple majority in Parliament to form a government in the Centre.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari (C) speaks during a press conference in Islamabad. File
| Photo Credit:
AFP

Mr. Bilawal hoped that the news of the political alliance with the PML-N to form a coalition government would lead to a positive market response as the cash-strapped country faced a hung Parliament after the elections.

Independent candidates – a majority backed by 71-year-old Mr. Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party — won 93 National Assembly seats.

OPINION | Pakistan in turmoil: On the Pakistan elections and results 

The PML-N won 75 seats while the PPP came third with 54 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) has 17 seats.

Speaking at the press conference, Mr. Shehbaz asserted that his party now has the “required numbers” with the PPP to be in a position to form the next government as he thanked the leadership of the two parties for the positive conclusion to the talks.

The former prime minister emphasised the unity between the two parties, noting that they were well-positioned to form the government at the Centre.

Mr. Shehbaz, who led a coalition government for 16 months before the elections, also said that he had asked the PTI-backed winning candidates to prove their majority and form the government, but they didn’t have sufficient numbers.

The PML-N stalwart also thanked Mr. Zardari for his cooperation. Mr. Shehbaz said that both parties decided that Mr. Zardari would be fielded as the joint candidate for the post of President.

Responding to a question about whether the PPP was getting any portfolios, Mr. Shehbaz said that the Bilawal-led party has not demanded any ministry from the first day, The News International reported.

“Parleys take place between two parties and issues are resolved through (mutual consultation). It doesn’t mean that we accept their demands or they accept ours; they have their views but reaching a middle point is the real political success,” he said.

The former prime minister added that the decisions on the “offices” would be made mutually later under the guidance of PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif and the PPP’s top leadership, the report said.

Mr. Shehbaz also thanked the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party, and the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, who will be part of the next government.

He vowed the upcoming coalition government would restore the country’s economy and fight against the menace of terrorism.

The PML-N leader said that the alliance would bring economic progress and development to the country. He said they would take measures to increase agricultural and industrial production in the country.

Mr. Shehbaz stressed that the previous unity forged during the 16-month government paved the way for their current collaboration, united in their commitment to addressing the concerns of the Pakistani people.

“We will not disappoint the people of Pakistan,” the president of the PML-N said.

The details were not provided but sources said that PPP was still reluctant to be part of the government as it agreed to have its president, chairman senate, and governors in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and chief minister in Balochistan.

The PML-N would have complete charge of the federal government with the prime minister and speaker. It will also get governors in the Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

The two also agreed to form a coalition government in Balochistan with an equal share in the cabinet.

Meanwhile, in a post on X, 71-year-old Khan’s party hit out at the newly cemented PPP, PML-N alliance as ‘PDM 2.0’ “PDM 2.0 = #MandateThieves.” The announcement of the alliance came a day after the latest round of talks between the top leaders of the two parties ended inconclusively on Monday as both sides failed to reach a consensus on a power-sharing formula to form a coalition government.

Mr. Shehbaz said that the journey ahead for the new government would not be easy but fraught with many difficulties and obstacles. He asserted that the coalition alliance will tackle them together, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Mr. Zardari, who was president from 2008 to 2013, has said the struggle of the political alliance bidding to make the next government is for the sake of the country and future generations.

Also Read | Pakistan’s election commission forms high-level committee to probe poll rigging allegations

The February 8 general elections have been controversial, with several serious allegations of widespread rigging to alter the results.

Imran Khan’s sister Aleema Khan said the PTI chief has termed the February 8 elections “mother of all rigging”.

Ms. Aleema met Imran Khan at Adiala Jail on Tuesday. She told reporters that the people’s mandate was “stolen” following the elections. She also said that Imran Khan has strongly condemned the suspension of internet services, which he claimed was used to “hide the real results”.



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Imran Khan’s party to sit in Opposition in Pakistan’s Parliament; to protest against poll rigging

Jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has decided to sit in the Opposition in Parliament while launching a countrywide protest against alleged rigging in the elections after its efforts to form the next government failed.

The major political parties in Pakistan have stepped up efforts to form a federal government after the February 8 elections delivered a split verdict.

While Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party-backed independent candidates dominated the election results, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) claimed to have enough numbers to form the government as some independents joined the Nawaz Sharif-led party post-polls.

PTI leader Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif announced on February 16 that following the instructions of PTI founder Khan, the party has decided to sit in the Opposition both at the Centre and in the key province of Punjab.

The decision came a day after the party had named Umar Ayub Khan as its candidate for the Prime Minister and Aslam Iqbal as Chief Minister for Punjab.

Talking to the media on Friday night [February 16] after visiting the Qaumi Watan Party in Islamabad, Mr. Saif said that the party decided to sit in the Opposition in the Centre and Punjab under the instructions of party founder Khan.

“We decided to sit in Opposition despite the reality that if we received seats according to our votes and the results were not changed then maybe today we might have been in the Centre with 180 seats. We have the evidence that our candidates won,” he said.

The party, which also issued a white paper against alleged rigging on Friday, has decided to kick off its demonstrations from February 17.

A PTI source said that the party’s incarcerated founder has tasked former National Assembly speaker Asad Qaiser with engaging political parties to muster support for the protest drive.

A PTI delegation led by Mr. Qaisar met the leader of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) on Friday, while a meeting with Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party’s Mehmood Khan Achakzai is scheduled to take place on Saturday.

Mr. Qaiser-led delegation also met Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Mian Muhammad Aslam and discussed the post-election scenario. The delegation sought JI’s support for joint protests against the alleged rigging.

It was not clear if the party would participate in the election of the Prime Minister and Punjab Chief Minister after the decision to join the Opposition ranks.

Khan’s party claimed that at least 85 seats won by it in Parliament were snatched in the “biggest voter fraud” in the country’s history and announced plans to hold “peaceful” nationwide protests on Saturday against alleged rigging.

PTI’s core committee met on Friday and finalised the plans for the nationwide protest campaign on the call of the party’s founder Khan.

The meeting urged the whole nation to come out of their houses against the “massive rigging”. The meeting also sought the resignation of the Chief Election Commissioner.

Independent candidates — a majority backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) — won 93 of the 265 National Assembly seats that were contested in the February 8 election.

However, PTI’s two main rivals appear on course to form a coalition government after former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) formed a post-poll alliance on Tuesday.

The PML-N won 75 seats while the PPP came third with 54 seats. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) has also agreed to support them with their 17 seats. To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 contested seats in the 266-member National Assembly. Khan declared on Friday will not seek political vengeance upon returning to power.

“We will not take any political revenge, but we will take the country and the nation forward for the sake of the development of the country and the nation,” he stated, as conveyed by PTI leader Ali Muhammad Khan following a 30-minute long meeting with Imran Khan at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail.

PTI’s Information Secretary Raoof Hasan and other leaders including Sher Afzal Marwat, Rehana Dar, Shoaib Shaheen and Salman Akram Raja, who challenged their election results before various forums, addressed a press conference in Islamabad.

Mr. Hasan said that 2024 would be remembered due to the “biggest voter fraud” in Pakistan’s history against the party and its candidates.

“According to our estimates, out of 177 [National Assembly] seats which were supposed to be ours, only 92 have been given to us. And 85 seats have been taken away from us fraudulently,” he said.

Editorial | Pakistan in turmoil: On the Pakistan elections and results 

He said that the party was taking constitutional and legal steps to counter the rigging and get its right. “We have verified data about 46 seats and it is being compiled for 39 seats,” he said.

Mr. Hasan also highlighted the discrepancies between Form 45 and Form 47, which respectively deal with counting in each polling station in a constituency and the overall count of all polling stations.

Mr. Hasan claimed there was a huge difference in the numbers of votes polled for National Assembly and provincial assembly seats. He said that the number of rejected votes, in certain cases, exceeded the margin of victory.

Separately, Mr. Hasan affirmed the party’s readiness for dialogue with the establishment, emphasising that the purpose of contacting political parties is not to form an electoral alliance but to bring all political forces together on a unified platform.

Speaking on the Express Tribune newspaper, Mr. Hasan highlighted that PTI’s founder has consistently advocated for engaging with all political parties. He emphasised that if political parties engage in positive politics, there is no harm in holding meetings and fostering collaboration.

“The purpose of contacting political parties is not at all an electoral alliance; our aim is that all political parties come together on one platform,” stated Mr. Hasan during the programme.

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Pakistan parties intensify efforts to form coalition government after split verdict in February 8 elections

The three main political parties in Pakistan on February 11 intensified their efforts for the formation of a coalition government after it became clear that the coup-prone country faced a hung Parliament after general elections marred by allegations of rigging.

The general elections were held on February 8, but the unusual delay in the announcement of results vitiated the atmosphere as several parties cried foul and some resorted to protests.

Former Prime Minister and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz supremo Nawaz Sharif received the backing of the powerful Pakistan Army chief General Asim Munir on February 10 for his call for a unity government to pull Pakistan out of its current difficulties.

Amidst allegations of vote rigging and inordinate delay in announcing the results, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on February 11 published the results of 264 out of 265 contested seats in the 266-member National Assembly. The result of one constituency was withheld by the ECP due to complaints of fraud. Election to one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate.

Independent candidates, a vast majority of them backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), won 101 seats in the National Assembly.

They were followed by three-time former PM Mr. Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 75 seats, which technically is the single largest party in Parliament.

The Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Zardari Bhutto got 54 seats, and the Karachi-based Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P) of Urdu-speaking people who migrated from India during the Partition, got 17 seats. Other smaller parties won the rest of the 12 seats.

To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 contested seats in the National Assembly.

Overall, 169 seats are needed to secure a simple majority out of its total 336 seats, which include the reserved slots for women and minorities which will be decided later based on proportional representation.

The PML-N was leading the push to form the coalition government on the pattern of one it set up after Mr. Khan, 71, was removed as Prime Minister through a no-confidence vote in April 2022. Party supremo Mr. Sharif, 74, tasked his younger brother former premier Shehbaz Sharif to hold talks on the issue.

The PML-N leaders on Sunday held a meeting with MQM-P leaders in Lahore.

After an hour-long meeting, they have reached a “principle agreement” to work together in the upcoming government, according to a statement released by Mr. Sharif’s party.

“We will work together in the interest of the country and public,” the statement said, adding that basic points had been agreed upon by the two parties.

MQM-P leader Haider Rizvi earlier told Geo News in an interview that his party would be more comfortable with the PML-N as the “two parties don’t compete in Karachi” unlike the PPP or other parties.

PML-N President Shehbaz on February 10 met senior PPP leaders Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal on February 9 night and discussed the future coalition.

Mr. Shehbaz told the party leaders that former President and PPP leader Asif Zardari has demanded the Prime Minister’s slot for PPP Chairman Bilawal and major ministerial portfolios in exchange for support for the PML-N to form the government, sources said.

Party sources added that so far making a coalition with Mr. Zardari was the first option the PML-N was exploring but didn’t want to give away the slot of Prime Minister.

Sources claimed the meeting decided that in case the negotiations with the PPP failed, the PML-N would make a coalition government with MQM, JUI-F and other smaller parties, including independents.

They further claimed that in this scenario, the PML-N would make Shehbaz Sharif the Prime Minister and Maryam Sharif the Chief Minister of Punjab.

“Shehbaz Sharif is the favourite for the PM office for being more close to the military establishment besides the PML-N has more seats in Parliament than the PPP,” sources said.

“Shehbaz is a favourite of the military establishment which feels much comfortable working with him,” they said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bilawal, the 35-year-old former foreign minister said no one could form governments in the Centre, Punjab or Balochistan without his party’s support, and the PPP’s door was open to every political party for dialogue, as reconciliation was vital for political stability.

“So far, the PPP has not engaged officially with the PML-N, PTI or any other party. Once the results are finalised, then the Central Executive Committee of the party, which nominated me as the candidate, will sit again and devise the course of action,” he said.

It is believed that a newer version of the Pakistan Democratic Movement coalition, also called as PDM government, under Shehbaz Sharif was more likely based on the experience of running the government after Mr. Khan was removed.

Meanwhile, PTI leader Gohar Khan also claimed that his party would form the government but analysts believe that it was not possible.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), however, said the PTI is not in a position to form the government without forming an alliance with major political parties like the PML-N or the PPP as it doesn’t have the required number for claiming majority in the lower house of Parliament.

The PILDAT chief also explained in detail what would happen if the PTI-affiliated independent candidates could join the PTI again during the three-day post-election period, The Express Tribune newspaper quoted Mehboob as saying.

He said it was possible. However, Mehboob explained that it will be a long route as it is mandatory that the party that the independent candidates want to join must have a party symbol.

PTI candidates contested as independents after the Supreme Court and Election Commission of Pakistan said they could not use the party symbol, a cricket bat.

Therefore, he said, if they want to join the PTI again, the PTI will have to hold intra-party elections and get its symbol back or any other symbol.

The PTI has rejected the “shameful” attempts at creating PDM 2.0 in the country by trampling on the intentions of the people, a statement released by the party said.

“The economic and administrative disaster that Pakistan is suffering today is the responsibility of PDM, an incompetent, worthless and rejected group of criminals,” it said in a statement.

The statement said the PTI was the “largest and most popular party in the country” and it therefore had the basic constitutional, democratic, moral and political right to form a government.

“The chief election commissioner (CEC) and the Election Commission of Pakistan are the main facilitators in the open robbery of democracy,” it added.

The PTI also demanded the immediate resignation of the CEC and members of the ECP.

On February 10, a statement attributed to the army chief Gen Munir said, “Pakistan’s diverse polity and pluralism will be well-represented by a unified government of all democratic forces imbibed with national purpose.”

The powerful Pakistan Army, which has ruled coup-prone Pakistan for more than half of its 75-plus years of existence, has wielded considerable power in the country’s politics.

The Army chief noted that the people of Pakistan reposed their combined trust in the Constitution of Pakistan and it was now “incumbent upon all political parties to reciprocate the same with political maturity and unity.”

Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi on February 11 said the voters, particularly women and youth, have “not only spoken but shouted out loud their will” in the general elections and urged all political parties and institutions to “respect and recognise” the huge mandate of the citizens.

Mr. Alvi was a senior member of PTI before former Prime Minister Imran Khan made him the country’s President in 2018.

Meanwhile, the PPP will hold its Central Executive Committee meeting at Mr. Zardari’s House in Islamabad on February 12.

According to the sources, important decisions related to the formation of the government will be taken in the meeting.

In an editorial on the election outcome, the Dawn newspaper commented that Pakistan once again finds itself in a familiar place — one that is steeped in political uncertainty.

“As the wheeling and dealing proceeds, two things are clear: one, that however the PML-N cobbles this coalition together, its ‘victory’ will be more bitter than sweet,” it said in an editorial.

Without the outcome it had hoped for, it is now left to perform that uneasy dance of give and take for political survival. This is certainly not the fantasy Mr. Sharif harboured when he returned to Pakistan after four years abroad, the editorial added.

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Pakistan elections 2024 | Jailed ex-PM Imran Khan claims election victory as his supporters lead in polls

Independents backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan won the most seats in Pakistan’s election on Feb. 9 after results from over half the constituencies were announced, leaving political parties trailing.

Almost 24 hours have passed since the close of polls and the results have been unusually delayed, which the government ascribed to the suspension of mobile phone services — a security measure ahead of Thursday’s election.

According to the latest Election Commission data, results of 226 constituencies out of 265 were declared. Independent candidates (mostly supported by PTI) bagged 92 seats while PML-N got 64, Pakistan Peoples Party secured 50, Muttahida Qaumi Movement won 12 and other parties got 8 seats.

To form a government, a party must win 133 seats out of 265 in the National Assembly. Election to one seat was postponed after the death of a candidate.

Overall, 169 seats are needed to secure a simple majority out of its total 336 seats, which include the reserved slots for women and minorities.

Imran Khan claims election victory

Meanwhile, jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed victory in the country’s general election in an audio-visual message created using artificial intelligence and shared on his X social media account.

In the message, which is usually delivered by word through his lawyers, Khan rejected rival Nawaz Sharif’s earlier claim to victory. Khan called on his supporters to celebrate a win that was achieved despite what he calls a crackdown on his party.

Sharif’s fails to win majority

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won 64 while the Pakistan Peoples Party of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto, got 50.

The rest were won by small parties and other independents.

Independent members cannot form a government on their own under Pakistan’s complex election system which also includes reserved seats that will be allotted to parties based on their winnings.

But independent members have the option to join any party after the elections.

Khan is in jail and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was barred from the election, so his supporters contested as independents.

Also Read: People of Pakistan to decide its future leadership: U.S.

Analysts have predicted there may be no clear winner, adding to the woes of a country struggling to recover from an economic crisis while it grapples with rising militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.

“A timely announcement of the results, leading to a smooth formation of a new government will reduce policy and political uncertainty,” Moody’s Investors Service said. “This is crucial for the country that is facing very challenging macroeconomic conditions.”

The delay in the announcement of results was unusual for elections in Pakistan. Karachi’s stock index and Pakistan’s sovereign bonds fell because of the uncertainty.

An “internet issue” was the reason behind the delay, Zafar Iqbal, Special Secretary at the ECP, said without elaborating.

The main electoral battle was expected to be between candidates backed by Khan, whose PTI won the last national election, and the PML-N of Sharif. Khan believes the powerful military is behind a crackdown to hound his party out of existence, while analysts and opponents say Sharif is being backed by the generals.

The military has dominated the nuclear-armed country either directly or indirectly in its 76 years of independence but for several years it has maintained it does not interfere in politics.

Sharif, considered by many observers to be a strong candidate, has dismissed talk of an unclear result but a close aide, Ishaq Dar, told GEO TV that the party could form a coalition with the support of independents.

“I am confident that we will form a government,” Mr. Dar said.

Sharif appeals rival parties to join hands to form unity govt

Mr. Sharif appeals rival parties to join hands to form unity govt to rebuild Pakistan after he fails to win majority

Mr. Sharif called for a unity government as the cash-strapped Pakistan appeared to be heading towards a hung parliament, with independent candidates backed by jailed ex-Premier Khan’s party springing a surprise by winning most of the 226 seats for which results were declared so far.

Addressing the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) supporters at the party’s Central Secretariat in Lahore, 74-year-old Sharif said his party respects the mandate of all parties, including the independent candidates backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

IMF bailout

If the election does not result in a clear majority for anyone, as analysts are predicting, tackling multiple challenges will be tricky — foremost being seeking a new bailout programme from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after the current arrangement expires in three weeks.

A coalition government “would probably be unstable, weak” and “the big loser…will be the Army. Because the army really has staked its reputation on its ability to deliver this vote”, said Marvin Weinbaum, Director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Studies at the Middle East Institute in Washington.

The election was expected to help resolve the crises Pakistan has been dealing with but a fractured verdict “could very well be the basis for even deeper exposure to forces which would create instability”, he said.

Thousands of troops were deployed on the streets and at polling stations across the country for the voting on Thursday. Borders with Iran and Afghanistan were temporarily closed as security was stepped up.

Despite the heightened security, 28 people, including two children, were killed in 56 violent incidents including bomb blasts, grenade attacks and shootings by militants, the Interior Ministry said.

“Despite a few isolated incidents, the overall situation remained under control, demonstrating the effectiveness of our security measures,” Interior Minister Gohar Ejaz said.

Washington was concerned about “steps that were taken to restrict freedom of expression, specifically around internet and cellphone use,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters.

The U.S. strongly condemned election-related violence both in the run-up to the polls and on election day, Mr. Patel added.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also expressed concern about the violence and the suspension of mobile communications services, his spokesperson said in an e-mailed statement.

Amnesty International called the suspension of mobile services “a blunt attack on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

(With inputs from PTI)



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The ‘generals’ elections’ that turned against Pakistan’s military

Pakistan’s 2024 general elections were dubbed the “most rigged” in the country’s history, with the popular Imran Khan barred from running and the military seen as backing former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. That was before results showed Khan-backed independent candidates leading the race. The stage appears to be set for a turbulent period after an irate electorate reacted to the military’s perceived meddling in politics – again.

Voters in the 2024 Pakistani general elections manoeuvred sheaves of ballot papers offering a profusion of symbols including tables, chairs, apples, airplanes, calculators and kitchen appliances. But there was no cricket bat on the ballot. 

With former cricket star and prime minister Imran Khan behind bars, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was banned from using its signature icon in a country where symbols are important tools for the electorate because of high illiteracy rates. This forced PTI-backed candidates to run as independents, each using different symbols that stretched ballot papers and the national imagination.

The country’s real power-wielder, however, was not on the ballot paper, and Pakistanis were never given a symbol or say on the issue.

The 2024 general election was dubbed the most rigged in Pakistan’s history, with wags on social media calling it the “generals’ election”, referring to the all-powerful military in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.

The consensus ahead of the vote was that regardless of who forms a government, the army would continue to rule the roost. The newly elected civilian administration would simply have to follow the rules of the Pakistani power game to survive.

In the course of its 76-year history, Pakistan has developed a system that some scholars call a “hybrid regime” featuring a mix of civilian politics and military interference in electoral democracy. The tacit agreement sees the generals controlling defence and foreign policies, leaving domestic socioeconomic issues to the politicians.

But the hybrid model has been changing in recent years, putting Pakistan in dangerous terrain. And the man widely believed to be calling the shots in the military has done little to inspire national confidence.

Prospect of a ‘chatterbox’ parliament

With Khan losing military support, and his party stymied at the poll, the military’s chosen candidate, veteran politician Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) party was expected to snag an outright win.

An outright Sharif win would see the dynastic Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto – going into opposition. It would see the two establishment parties once again dominating Pakistani politics.

But after a surprisingly strong showing by PTI-backed independent candidates, who led the national election results, Sharif changed tack on Friday, declaring he would form a coalition government.

“We don’t have enough of a majority to form a government without the support of others and we invite allies to join the coalition so we can make joint efforts to pull Pakistan out of its problems,” he said.

Nawaz Sharif, center, addresses supporters in Lahore, Pakistan, February 9, 2024. © K.M. Chaudary, AP

Under Pakistan’s electoral rules, victorious independent candidates can join any party in the 336-seat National Assembly. With the imprisoned Khan facing nearly 200 legal charges ranging from corruption to leaking state secrets, experts predict the popular former cricketer-politician is likely to remain behind bars for several years.

The results of Thursday’s vote point to fractious political period ahead, warns Ayesha Siddiqa, senior fellow at King’s College, London, and author of “Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy”. “If there are many independents in parliament, it will make the house a chatterbox,” she noted. “It will be an unruly, funny kind of parliament with everyone going for each other’s jugulars.”

Khan’s fall from military grace

Overseeing the political turbulence is the man at the helm of the military, Pakistani army chief General Asim Munir. This comes as the country faces major economic and security crises.

Khan may be behind bars, but he remains a political force. The former cricketer-politician maintains that the myriad legal charges against him are politically motivated. Most Pakistanis, including Khan’s opponents, do not disagree. A weak judiciary means Pakistan is ranked 130th out of 142 countries on the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law index.

A poster of Imran Khan on display at his party office in Islamabad, February 9, 2024.
A poster of Imran Khan on display at his party office in Islamabad, February 9, 2024. © Anjum Naveed, AP

Since General Munir was appointed army chief in November 2022, Khan’s legal woes have multiplied. At times, they have taken an absurdly personal turn.

Relations between the two men have been acrimonious since Khan was elected prime minister in 2018 and replaced Munir as chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) spy agency with a loyalist, according to Pakistani media reports.

Read morePakistan army chief’s deepening rift with Imran Khan

On February 3, just days before the election, a Pakistani court sentenced Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi to seven years in jail in a case related to their marriage, which it declared “un-Islamic”.

The verdict was widely criticised by legal experts as a “disgrace” and a “damning blot” on Pakistan’s judiciary.

Sharif rises again

When he stood for elections in 2018, Khan was widely seen as the military’s candidate, “handpicked, groomed and installed” by the generals. But that was until Khan fell out with the army in a fate shared by Sharif, the politician widely tipped to be Pakistan’s new prime minister.

Khan and Sharif’s reversal of fortunes reflects the dramatic shift in Pakistani politics, which has been likened to a “Game of Thrones”. In 2017, Sharif was ousted as prime minister when he attempted to institute civilian oversight of the military. After he was hit with a slew of corruption charges, Sharif went into self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving sentences. Khan at that time was viewed as the army’s favourite son.

But as the country spiralled into political turmoil last year, with Khan’s supporters storming army residences and bases in unprecedented displays of disaffection with the military, Sharif was back in the generals’ favour.

After four years of exile, Sharif returned to Pakistan last October.  Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term in office.

A businessman and former chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous and prosperous province, Sharif has a record of pursuing economic growth and development. During his previous stints as prime minister, the billionaire politician sought closer trade ties with India, Pakistan’s giant neighbour and arch-foe.

Sharif’s return to Pakistan was widely viewed as a sign that the military was seeking a safe pair of hands to handle the country’s crippling economic crisis. But over the past few months, the military has been increasingly encroaching on the economic turf.

Army takes top seat on economic council

More than seven decades after independence, Pakistan is facing its worst economic crisis. Inflation has hovered around 30 percent, sending the currency, the rupee, into freefall. Last year, the impoverished South Asian nation narrowly escaped a sovereign debt default when the IMF approved a $3 billion bailout package.

While it was provided a band-aid from the brink, Pakistan still has to tackle major structural problems since it is seeking a new IMF bailout programme after the current arrangement expires in three weeks.

As the crisis deepened last year, Pakistan established an apex economic body, the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), to coordinate economic and fiscal policies. 

The formation of the SIFC was touted as a key move to raise international investor confidence and uphold democratic governance. But then the army secured a top seat at the economic policy table, raising eyebrows in fiscal circles with the announcement that the co-chair of the new SIFC was none other than army Chief General Munir.

When ‘dangerous duffers’ call the shots

The 2024 vote saw the army playing an exceptionally heavy card, even by Pakistani standards. The tactic appeared to have failed, with voters overcoming the odds to elect PTI-backed candidates. But this could spell a period of further turbulence, analysts warn.

“Assuming most of the independent candidates are PTI, if [Sharif’s] PML-N has to form a government, it will have to form a coalition,” said Siddiqa. “The weaker the coalition, the stronger [the] military.”

The military’s meddling in politics has long earned the wrath of Pakistani democratic rights defenders. Nearly 15 years ago, one of the country’s leading human rights lawyers, the late Asma Jehangir, created a stir when she called the country’s military leaders “duffers” on a live TV show.

Jehangir subsequently modified her monicker to “dangerous duffers”, noting that the term implied the military top brass was “not only incompetent, but incapable of learning”. 

The latest election has shown that Jehangir’s verdict still holds, according to Siddiqa.    

“They haven’t changed that much, they’re still dangerous duffers because they think they have a role in governance,” she said. “But the military is a strong pole, and so are the political parties. With this election, the political parties are back in play. It now depends on how they conduct themselves.”

In the past, Pakistan’s political parties have formed common cause with the army in a bid to unseat rivals. The lack of civilian unity to relegate the military to the barracks has enabled the generals to periodically meddle with the ballots. Following Thursday’s vote, social media sites were awash with messages by Pakistanis calling for dialogue and national unity. If their calls are ignored, it will not be for the first time in Pakistan’s troubled history.

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Watch | Pakistan elections | A new dawn or more of the same?

Pakistan prepares for political chaos as election results suggest a surge in favour of Imran Khan’s candidates– but with no clear winner yet, can the man seen as the military’s choice- Nawaz Sharif still forge a government?

Results are trickling in from Pakistan’s election nearly 24 hours later- which itself is news, as normally results are done within 8 or 9 hours of the polls closing- leading to fears of electoral manipulations further. Whatever else is in doubt- this is certainly not the easy win that many had predicted for Nawaz Sharif

I’m not going to confuse you by giving figures that may get dates- what we will try to do is look at the broad trends, what possible outcomes there could be- what that means for Pakistan, and then how that changes the course if at all for the rest of the region, especially India.

So first- Heres what you need to know about Pakistan elections and what they voted for

1. Pakistan holds elections for 266 seats of the National Assembly or parliament- , and State assembly elections. The National Assembly has 336 seats in all- 60 are reserved for women, 10 for minorities which are nominated by parties in proportion to their seats.

2. 134 seats are needed by a party or a coalition to be invited to form government- an if you look at the number of seats, it is easy to see how Punjab state is the main decider of the National government- here is the break up of seats:

Punjab – 141 seats

Sindh- 61 seats

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa- 45 seats

Balochistan- 16 seats

Islamabad Capital Territory- 3 seats

3. Provincial or State Assembly elections for Punjab, Sind, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies are also expected- broad trends appear to give Sindh to the Pakistan People’s Party, KPK to Independents affilitated to Imran Khan, while Punjab is seeing many wins by Independents, but Sharif’s PML-N as the biggest party and likely to form the state assembly. It should also be noted that while Independents were winning by large leads across the country overnight- by the next afternoon- it seemed many of the results turned in favour of PML-N

Now what’s different about these elections?

  1. Former PM Imran Khan is in jail- and still very popular… he was disqualified from standing after being charged with corruption, misappropriation and a case of national security. He has not been able to campaign, or speak to supporters, and has used AI and other innovative means to reach voters. On voting day, the government suspended the internet, and telephone communications were down, leading to more allegations that this was an attempt to manage the outcome.
  2. While leaders of major parties have often been in jail during elections – this is the first time since 2008 where a political party itself has been stopped from campaigning- Imran Khan’s PTI has lost not just its recognition, but also its party symbol the cricket bat- and as a result had to put up candidates with different symbols.
  3. Nawaz Sharif- former PM, who had earlier been disqualified and sentenced to prison has been given protection from arrest, and a waiver of the charges against him that allowed him to return to Pakistan after 4 years
  4. Analysts say this election in 2024 is the mirror image of the 2018 elections- when Imran Khan won the elections, while Nawaz Sharif was convicted and sentenced to prison.
  5. But what has made this election truly different is this- that the PTI has not given up standing for elections despite the restrictions, that people have registered a strong turnout despite the cynicism, and the votes for a record number of independents show that there was both a political and public resistance to the outcome that was seen as the military establishment’s favourite for this election 

Possible Outcomes of the Pakistan vote :

  1. A hung assembly in which no party wins a clear majority, and even the PML-N and the PPP are not able to forge a winning coalition- leading to long term chaos
  2. Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N goes ahead and stakes claim to form government, if it is the biggest party. It then manages to win a confidence vote by turning Independents to shift their allegiance from the PTI to PML
  3. Even the PPP has a path to power as it could be seen as the lesser of two evils by Imran Khan affiliated independents
  4. The PTI’s Independents sign support for one of their leaders and form a coalition of their own. Remember, the President, who has to invite the next PM to form a government is still Arif Alvi, from the PTI party.

Each of these outcomes could see a massive backlash on the streets, or even from establishment backed militia- and the violence could take a turn for the worse.

-The last such elections- where East Pakistan’s Mujib ur Rahman won elections in 1970 but this was not accepted by then President Yahya Khan- eventually led to protests and violence that saw the creation of Bangladesh a year later

-Elections in the post-Zia Ul Haq period in 1993-1996 and from 2008-2018 have all seen the military range in favour of one or other party- leading to them being called selections not elections. Even so, the results have more or less been accepted in the past, and the question, will these elections see a pushback?

-In 2013, Imran Khan began a nationwide campaign against the election results where Sharif won- and that led to a change in government…Remember, no Pakistan PM has ever completed a full term in office- due mainly to the military’s interference

Impact for region and India:

  1. Concerns about Pakistan heading into political chaos- causing regional instability with Pakistan’s unstable borders with Iran, Afghanistan and India
  2. Pakistan’s economy has been in free fall, and confidence in its recovery may plunge further. With uncertainty over the elections, Markets at the Karachi Stock Exchange dropped 2,000 points on Friday morning.
  3. In particular, the questions over an IMF default, and a greater dependence on China- that holds an estimated $67 billion in loans to Pakistan at present- will push Pakistan even further into an economic collapse
  4. A spike in terrorism ahead of elections- blasts in Balochistan that saw dozens killed just before polls, as well as TTP attacks in Khyber Pukthunkhwa could spill over in the rest of the region
  5. In a subcontinent where Bangladesh, Pakistan, Maldives, India and Sri Lanka are all due for elections- the appearance of manipulated elections tars the entire neighbourhood 

WV Take:

From the start, the elections in Pakistan have been seen as an unfair match- where one side, the PTI arguably the most popular had to run the election- without their captain, without their bat, without a level playing field, and the Umpire ruling against them at every turn. While that will only increase the cynicism worldwide over democracy in Pakistan, pragmatism may involve forging some kind of engagement with whoever is the power in a country, as New Delhi has done with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Over all, it may be best to do nothing at all until the dust settles on these very contested election results

READING RECOMMENDATIONS:

  1. Anger Management: The Troubled Diplomatic Relationship between India and Pakistan by Ajay Bisaria
  2. The Nine Lives of Pakistan: Dispatches from a Divided Nation Paperback – 2 November 2021 by Declan Walsh
  3. The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics by Ayesha Jalal
  4. The People Next Door: The Curious History of India-Pakistan Relations by T.C.A. Raghavan
  5. Neither a Hawk nor a Dove : An Insiders Account Of Pakistans Foreign Policy by Khurshid Mehmud Kasuri

 Script and Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Shibu Narayan

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Polls close in Pakistan after millions vote in election marred by violence

Millions of Pakistanis voted Thursday in an election marred by rigging allegations, with authorities suspending mobile phone services throughout the day and the country’s most popular politician in jail.

At least seven officers were killed in two separate attacks targeting election security details, and officials reported a string of minor blasts in southwestern Balochistan province that wounded two people.

Pollsters predicted a low turnout from the country’s 128 million eligible voters following a lacklustre campaign overshadowed by the jailing of former prime minister Imran Khan, and the hobbling of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party by the military-led establishment.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is expected to win the most seats in Thursday’s vote, with analysts saying its 74-year-old founder Nawaz Sharif has won the blessing of the generals.

Adding to concerns about the integrity of the vote, authorities announced just before polls opened that they had suspended mobile telephone services across the country “to maintain law and order” after two blasts on Wednesday that killed 28 people.

Nighat Dad, a lawyer who runs the not-for-profit Digital Rights Foundation, said the outage “is an attack on the democratic rights of Pakistanis”.

“Shutting down mobile phone services is not a solution to national security concerns. If you shut down access to information you create more chaos”.

Voters in Pakistan rely on a text messaging service to confirm the polling station where they are registered.

Forty-year-old Abdul Jabbar said the internet disruption stopped him and his wife from using the service. 

“Other PTI supporters helped us to trace it in the end,” he told AFP.

Khan’s party calls decision to suspend mobile service a ‘betrayal’


Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (0300 GMT) and were due to close at 5:00 pm. They were guarded by armed security forces.

“My only fear is whether my vote will be counted for the same party I cast it for. At the same time, for the poor it does not matter who is ruling — we need a government that can control inflation,” said Syed Tassawar, a 39-year-old construction worker

First-time voter Haleema Shafiq, a 22-year-old psychology student, said she believed in the importance of voting.

“I believe in democracy. I want a government that can make Pakistan safer for girls,” she told AFP in Islamabad.

In the central city of Multan, Ayesha Bibi said the next government must provide more schools for rural women. 

“We came here by foot and then on a tractor trailer. It was a very difficult and hard journey,” said the housewife. 

More than 650,000 army, paramilitary and police personnel were deployed to provide security for an election already marred by violence.

Five security personnel were killed Thursday in an attack in Kulachi in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, a police official said, adding that a separate mortar attack on a polling station in the province caused no casualties.

In Balochistan province, two security officers were killed and nine wounded by a blast near a polling station in Lajja town, another official said. 

The Balochistan port city of Gwadar saw 14 “minor blasts”, injuring two people, police official Zohaib Hassan said. 

On Wednesday, at least 28 people were killed and more than 30 wounded by two bomb blasts outside the offices of candidates in the province in attacks claimed hours later by the Islamic State group.

Read moreDeadly twin blasts target Pakistani candidate offices on eve of election

 

Justifying the mobile phone shutdown, an interior ministry spokesman said “security measures are essential to maintain law and order situation and to deal with potential threats”.

The foreign ministry said land borders with neighbours Iran and Afghanistan would also be closed to all traffic Thursday as a security measure.

The election figures are staggering in the nuclear-armed nation of 240 million people — the world’s fifth-most populous.

Nearly 18,000 candidates are standing for seats in the national and four provincial assemblies, with 266 seats directly contested in the former — an additional 70 reserved for women and minorities — and 749 places in the regional parliaments.

Tables turned

Thursday’s election has a similar air to the 2018 poll, but with the tables turned. 

Then, it was Sharif who was disqualified from running because of a string of convictions for graft, while Khan swept to power with the backing of the military, as well as genuine support. 

As he cast his vote at a school in Lahore Thursday, Sharif denied that he had made any deal with the military to rule.

“Actually I have never had any problems with the military,” he said.

The history of Pakistan elections is chequered with allegations of rigging but also favouritism, said Bilal Gilani, executive director of polling group Gallup Pakistan.

“It’s a managed democracy that the military runs,” he said.

Read moreRevolving door politics? Shadow of military looms over Pakistan elections

Unlike the last poll, however, the opposition party has had its name removed from ballots, forcing PTI-selected candidates to run as independents.

Khan, a former international cricketer who led Pakistan to victory in the World Cup in 1992, was last week sentenced to lengthy jail terms for treason, graft, and an illegal marriage.

A PTI official told AFP that Khan had been allowed a postal ballot from Adiala Jail.

Analysts say the character assassination shows how worried the military is that PTI-selected candidates could still prove a decisive factor in Thursday’s vote.

If Sharif does not win a ruling majority, he will most likely still take power via a coalition with one or more junior partners — including the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), another family-run dynasty now led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

Whoever wins takes over a deeply divided country, observers say, with the economy in tatters.

Inflation is galloping at nearly 30 percent, the rupee has been in free fall for three years and a balance of payments deficit has frozen imports, severely hampering industrial growth.

(AFP)

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As Pakistan goes to elections, farmers want climate change action, not words

Tending to his wilting wheat crop after months of drought and smog, Pakistani farmer Aamer Hayat Bhandara said his biggest hope for the general election is that whoever wins makes good on a flurry of campaign promises to tackle climate change. Pakistan goes to polls on February 8.

The two frontrunners – the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – have both proposed similar climate policies in their manifestos, highlighting growing concern about the effects of global warming after devastating 2022 floods.

Changing climate patterns

“The smog and absence of rain for three consecutive months robbed crops of sunlight…and caused rust — or fungal infection — on wheat,” said Mr. Bhandara, 38, a farmer in Punjab province and co-founder of the Agriculture Republic think-tank, which represents small- and medium-scale farmers.

He said changing climate patterns had shortened winters and stretched summers, with heatwaves impacting his rice and corn crops, while untimely rains and hailstorms have battered his wheat harvests. That made the parties’ promises for climate action – from boosting renewable energy to investing in early warning systems for floods and heatwaves – welcome reading for him and other farmers at the sharp end of climate change.

“The pledges are wonderful,” Mr. Bhandara said. “Heightened climate action not only holds the potential to ease economic pressures but also to generate employment opportunities.” He added, however, that “the crux of the challenge is to translate these policies into action”.

Pakistan produces less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, but ranks 8th among countries most vulnerable to extreme weather linked to climate change, according to the latest edition of the Global Climate Risk Index.

Homes are surrounded by floodwaters in Sohbat Pur city, a district of Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province, Aug. 29, 2022.
| Photo Credit:
AP

The floods in 2022 killed more than 1,700 people, displaced 8 million and destroyed about a million homes and livelihoods across the country of 220 million – fuelling calls for the Government to prioritise the fight against climate change.

Politicians promise to fight climate change

Outlining his party’s plans to overhaul Pakistan’s development model to stabilise its troubled economy, PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told Reuters this month his strategy would put “the threat of climate change front and centre”.

He said the PPP also aims to ensure global funds exceeding $10 billion pledged last year to help Pakistan rebound from the floods are used to fight climate change.

Similarly, the PMLN has vowed to use the funds to implement the Resilient Recovery, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction Framework, dubbed 4RF, a recovery strategy to build long-term climate resilience and adaptation developed with international organisations.

The party’s proposals also include strict enforcement of environmental protection laws, upgrading brick kilns to fight air pollution, and planting native tree species to curb the use of fertilisers, reduce soil erosion and save water, among others.

Party president Shehbaz Sharif has described climate change as a “development, economic, human and national security issue”.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), left in disarray by the jailing and election ban on its leader Imran Khan last month, has not released its manifesto yet.

Implementation is key, say activists

Economists warn that a lack of adequate measures to fight the effects of climate change could deal another blow to a cash-strapped economy already grappling with historic inflation and an unstable rupee.

A 2022 World Bank report highlighted Pakistan’s staggering financial requirements to combat climate-induced disasters, estimating a $300 billion gap in available funds.

Without urgent action, climate change could shave off one-fifth of GDP, it said.

But Ahmad Rafay Alam, an environmental lawyer and activist, said the frontrunners’ election manifestos neglected the economic effects of climate change. “The transformative effects that [the] climate crisis brings to our economy such as the effects on the market economy of agriculture, coastal resources, energy, forestry, tourism, and water are overlooked,” he said. Authorities often fail to implement their policies, he added.

Despite Government pledges to boost clean energy, Pakistan’s renewable energy growth has lagged — rising from 0% of total power generation capacity in 2010 to 5.7% in 2023, while the global average went from 2% to 12% over the same period.

Part of the challenge stems from the fact that critical sectors such as agriculture, water, transport, energy, urban development and forestry fall under provincial government control.

“Climate governance necessitates a tailored, province-specific approach rather than a federal, one-size-fits-all strategy,” Mr. Alam said by phone from the city of Lahore.

Others have voiced concern that the party manifestos pay scant attention to communities displaced by climate-related disasters or those in climate hotspots including low-lying coastal areas and mountainous regions threatened by glacial melting.

‘We risk losing everything’

But environmental activists and farmers have broadly welcomed the focus on climate issues for the first time in this year’s election campaign.

In a village near Chichawatni in Pakistan’s cotton-growing belt, farmer Jawwad Nawaz, 32, said the PMLN’s manifesto represents “a lifeline for the agricultural community”, adding that he hopes the proposed policies translate into tangible support for farmers.

Lahore-based climate activist Mawra Muzaffar said she had seen progress in Sindh province under the PPP that showed what could be achieved — from growing mangroves to importing electric buses. The PMLN’s vows to boost the use of clean energy in agriculture through solar panels are realistic and feasible, she said. “Moreover, it talks about a 10% reduction in carbon emissions, which if achieved will be very important,” she added.

In his village in Pakpattan district, Bhandara said the success of such policies must go hand-in-hand with climate adaptation measures for farmers.

His think-tank, and Digital Dera, a tech startup, is calling for the establishment of a national fund for research, innovation, resilience, and financial security for farmers. “Farmers need support for adaptation, and the Government must bear the cost of these measures,” he said, calling for urgent action to implement such policies.

“We can’t afford to waste time when it comes to climate change…Otherwise, we risk losing everything – including our food security and livelihoods,” he said, before hurrying off to meet an election candidate visiting his village.

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