Friday, March 1, 2024

Pakistan elections: Amid ballot rigging and army crackdown, Imran Khan-backed independents take lead in tight race

Around 128 million voters were registered to vote in national and state elections in Pakistan amid political and economic turmoil.

As the counting of votes is well underway, early results show PMLN (Pakistan Muslim League [N]), PPP (Pakistan Peoples Party) and PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) candidates fighting a neck to neck battle.

The Election Commission of Pakistan started announcing results, shortly after 12 hours after polling for Pakistan’s national and provincial assemblies ended on Thursday.

According to the live status aired by Al Jazeera, Imran Khan’s PTI-backed candidates lead by winning 37 seats so far, while Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N has won a total of 34 seats and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s PPP has won 28 seats.

Jailed Imran Khan-led PTI claims that the party-backed candidates are hopefully waiting for a triumph despite a military-backed crackdown aimed at disrupting the democratic process, by their arch-rival Pakistan Muslim League (N).

“Show some grace and accept the defeat! People of Pakistan will never accept you. This is a golden opportunity to regain some credibility as a democrat. Daylight robbery is going to be rejected massively by Pakistan,” PTI wrote on its official X handle.

PTI claims that they are in a solid position to form government in Federal, Punjab & KP, with a clear majority.

“However, manipulation of the results in the late hours of the night is an utter disgrace & a brazen theft of the nation’s mandate. The people of Pakistan vehemently reject the rigged results. The world is watching”, it added.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has tried to carry out an unusual election campaign using social media and covert canvassing. They have registered party members as independents after the election commission ruled the party itself cannot run and stripped it of its famous cricket bat symbol.

Meanwhile, in a shocking development, three-time former Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was defeated by independent candidate Shahzada Gastasap in NA-15 Mansehra constituency.

At the same time, Nawaz is contesting in Lahore’s NA-130 constituency, where he defeated Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-backed (PTI) Yasmeen Rashid.

Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks to members of the media as he arrives to cast his vote at a polling station during the general election in Lahore, Pakistan, February 8, 2024. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

Nevertheless, the loss is significant as Mansehra was expected to be a stronghold of the party.

Pakistan National Assembly comprises 336 members, out of whom 266 are elected through direct voting.While 60 seats are reserved for women, 10 are allotted for minorities and divided on the basis of 5 percent proportional representation in the federal parliament.

This year, voting in one seat was postponed due to the death of a candidate. However, a party or a coalition will need 133 seats to form the government.

Another 593 seats of the four provincial assemblies, out of a total 749, are also open for contest. ECP delayed polls on at least three seats, two in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and one in Punjab, after two candidates died and one was killed.

Every voter has to cast two votes, one for the national assembly and the other one for the provincial assembly.

Voting on Thursday was disturbed by violence and ruckus caused by armed groups and the military. At least 12 people were killed and 39 injured nationwide during the clashes aimed at disrupting the vote.

Moreover, on election day, the government suspended mobile phone networks citing security concerns.

This move, which was widely criticised by the opposition, prompted accusations of “political engineering” against Nawaz Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League (N).

The “internet issue” has also caused a delay in results, as claimed by Zafar Iqbal, special secretary at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

The police force used tear gas on citizens gathered outside the RO office in Sialkot (NA-72), protesting over the delay in the announcement of the election result.

Besides the delay in the results, citizens and opposition accuse the current regime of theft and poll rigging. Several footages were circulated on social media, in which the army personnel and police officers could be seen violently taking hold of counting stations to distort results.

Nawaz Sharif’s party lead in Punjab’s state assembly and hold a position to form a government in Pakistan’s largest province. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s party tops the list in Sindh in the south, while independents backed by Imran Khan have established a strong ground in KP province.

It’s worth noting that formally nothing is stopping the independent lawmakers backed by PTI from switching allegiances, as shifting loyalties after elections is a common phenomenon in South Asia.

PTI senior leader Barrister Gohar Ali Khan has categorically denied such allegations and the possibility to form alliance with PPP or PML-N to form a coalition government, Geo News reported.

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