Elections: Pakistan: Independents surprisingly strong in parliamentary elections

Elections: Pakistan: Independents surprisingly strong in parliamentary elections

Against all expectations and despite massive intimidation, the opposition was able to score points in the elections in Pakistan. It is completely unclear who will govern the nuclear power in the future.

The nuclear power Pakistan faces a difficult task of forming a government after the parliamentary elections. Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who recently returned from exile and is considered by many to be the clear favorite, failed to secure a majority with his PML-N party. After counting 91 percent of the constituencies, he only got a good 28 percent of the seats in parliament, according to statistics from the Electoral Commission.

The independent candidates, most of whom, according to Pakistani media reports, have connections to the imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan and his opposition party PTI, emerged, quite surprisingly, as the strongest force with 40 percent of the seats.

The success of the PTI candidates was so unexpected because Pakistan’s judiciary had largely paralyzed the opposition party before the election. According to a ruling by the Supreme Court, members of the party were only allowed to run as independent candidates, and their election campaign was also severely restricted. In the end, Khan’s party supporters had to make do with using artificial intelligence to create campaign speeches by the politician, who was in maximum security prison. Khan, prime minister from 2018 until a vote of no confidence in spring 2022, was sentenced to several years in prison on corruption charges, among other things. He himself sees the proceedings as politically motivated to keep him away from power.

Sharif’s party appeared confident of victory on election day and hoped for an absolute majority. According to observers, the PML-N was the electoral favorite of the influential generals. In the country, the powerful military is said to repeatedly influence elections and governments. Sharif’s party wanted to start talks with other parties on Friday. “I invite all allies to join us in lifting Pakistan out of the current economic mess,” the 74-year-old said during a speech in his hometown of Lahore.

Established parties are recruiting defectors from the opposition

Most recently, Sharif’s party provided the prime minister in a broad government coalition. This also included the People’s Party PPP, which, according to the partial results, came in third place with almost 21 percent of the seats. Its 35-year-old top candidate and short-term Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has government ambitions, but on the evening before the election he initially ruled out any further cooperation with Sharif’s party. 134 seats in the National Assembly are needed for a majority.

The PML-N and PPP are likely to court the favor of the independent candidates in order to find a majority. Observers did not assume that the PTI-affiliated independents would work together in parliament. Many would rather switch to the camp that has the best prospects of participating in government. This is not unusual in Pakistan – politicians have repeatedly changed their loyalties in the past.

Pakistan’s National Assembly has 336 seats, of which 266 are directly elected. A further 60 seats are reserved for women and ten for non-Muslims, which are filled according to the strength of the individual parties. With the additional seats, the large established parties are likely to increase their weight in parliament compared to the independents. Independent candidates have 72 hours after the election to join other parties or form their own factions.

Election overshadowed by internet blocks and allegations of manipulation

Weeks before the election, political experts and human rights activists denounced unfair election conditions because of the crackdown on the opposition. Due to internet blackouts on election day and massive delays in counting votes, the PTI complained of manipulation. The Interior Ministry justified the shutdown of the mobile networks with the alleged security for voters.

The next government faces major challenges

A long list of challenges awaits the new government: terrorist attacks, an ailing economy with high inflation of almost 30 percent and the consequences of climate change. The World Bank also recently curbed expectations for the economy of the country with 240 million inhabitants, which has experienced an upswing in recent decades but only recorded minimal growth after the corona pandemic and the devastating floods in the summer of 2022. The country suffers from high levels of social injustice and religious extremism. The population is largely disillusioned by the power struggles of the political leadership.

Sharif primarily relied on populist positions during the election campaign. The businessman promised to stimulate the economy, reduce electricity prices and create ten million jobs within five years. Bhutto Zardari had sharply attacked both the imprisoned Khan and Sharif. His PPP party made the severe economic crisis a campaign issue and promised to release political prisoners. Climate change was also an issue for the party. The province of Sindh, a stronghold of the PPP in the south, was particularly affected by the flood disaster in 2022.

Tense security situation – tensions with neighboring countries

In terms of foreign policy, the next government is also likely to focus on the relationship with the Taliban, the new rulers in neighboring Afghanistan. Militant groups have been gaining strength again in recent years, above all the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which despite ideological proximity operate independently of the rulers in the neighboring country. The relationship with rival India is also tense. With a multi-billion dollar economic corridor, the South Asian country has become deeply dependent on China.

South Asia expert Michael Kugelman told the German Press Agency that Pakistan’s most important partners and donors in bilateral relations with Islamabad would continue to rely on the military, which they see as an important interlocutor. “It doesn’t matter who wins the election.”

Source: Stern

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