With a shattered economy, an unstable government mired in corruption and involvement in terrorist activities in South Asia and beyond, Pakistan will go to the polls on February 8, where 128 million registered voters will elect members of the Assembly. National, the country’s lower house.
Pakistan’s elections, in which the military allegedly interfered, have had a history of controversy, this time with its former prime minister, Imran Khan, jailed while another, Nawaz Sharif, emerged from self-imposed exile.
Here’s what you need to know about the upcoming election.
Imran Khan vs. Nawaz Sharif
Nawaz Sharif, who left for London in 2019 after Pakistan’s Supreme Court banned him from electoral politics in 2017 over corruption charges in the Panama Papers scandal, is being seen as a key favorite in the elections, hoping to join the office.
The three-time former prime minister, who never completed a full five-year term, is being favored by Pakistan’s military to be the next prime minister. Interestingly, corruption charges against Sharif were dropped following his return last year, and the courts also lifted the ban on participating in the elections.
Sharif, however, often had tense relations with the military during his third term in 2013. His second term ended abruptly in a military coup in 1999.
His brother, Shehbaz Sharif, led the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) coalition government after Imran Khan was removed from office in 2022.
Sharif’s archrival, cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, has been sentenced to 10 years in jail in a corruption case. Despite his supporters calling the charges against him “politically motivated,” the Supreme Court annulled the internal polls of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and stripped him of the ‘cricket bat’ symbol to the next elections.
bbc, citing a Gallup poll, reported that Khan is today the most popular leader in Pakistan despite being out of the electoral race. Many of his supporters have accused former army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa of being behind Khan’s overthrow in 2022.
Khan, who once promised to end dynastic politics in 2018, had faced accusations of media restrictions, human rights violations and attacks on journalists during his tenure. The country’s economy began to collapse and many opposition leaders were sent to jail while he was in office.
Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi, were sentenced to seven years in prison by a court that ruled their 2018 marriage violated the law.
His aide, Jahangir Tareen, is contesting the 2024 elections with his newly founded Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party (IPP). Sugar baron, also one of the richest politicians in Pakistan today, Tareen, has promised to deliver ‘Naya Pakistan’, according to Sunrise. Tareen is alleged to have financed several PTI protests and rallies and is “considered someone who can buy influence”.
Bilawal Bhutto Zardari
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and her father, Asif Ali Zardari, is contesting power for the first time since 2008. The 35-year-old Bhutto scion will contest his second election. He was foreign minister under the PDM government.
His party has promised to double salaries, subsidies for the rich and the budget through government cuts, all while the country is in dire straits. Political experts have rejected the PPP, but have predicted that the party could be a key factor in a governing alliance in these elections.
His party faces challenges such as governance in Sindh for the last four terms and the 2022 floods, which destroyed much of the province.
Nawaz Sharif’s daughter is expected to take the reins of the party and continue his political legacy. She could get a bigger slice of the pie if the PML-N and its allies come to power.
What awaits us for the next PM?
Reducing inflation, creating jobs for the youth and securing investments for Pakistan’s future are some of the immediate concerns that the country’s future leader will have to address.
In terms of foreign affairs, Iran’s recent missile attack on the Jaish al-Adl terrorist group has increased tensions between the two countries. Pakistan also faces threats of terrorist attacks in Afghanistan, where Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) wants to establish its government in Pakistan.
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The country of 241 million inhabitants has 69 million men and 59 million women voters, who will exercise their power on February 8 in 90,582 polling stations. There are 5,121 candidates belonging to the 167 registered political parties or fighting as independents for 266 seats.
The majority of voters are between 18 and 35 years old, representing 44% of the national vote bank.
first published: February 5, 2024, 1:29 PM IST
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