Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tekrik e Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the largest political party in Pakistan’s General Elections held on July 25. Millions of Pakistanis, amid scorching heat and growing concerns of insecurity, flocked to polling stations to vote for their favorite candidates.
Initial results indicate that Khan’s party, with most number of seats among three big parties, has not bagged enough seats to form a simple majority government. However, experts and analysts predict a coalition with Independents, the PML-Q, and other smaller parties will help Khan become the next Prime Minister of the country.
Compared to previous polls, the 2018 elections also witnessed positive trends among the country’s voters. Where ultra-right groups, such as Tehrik e Labaik, received an underwhelming response, parties allegedly having the backing of the military establishment, such as the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and Independents fighting under the ‘Jeep’ (SUV) election symbol, also failed to live up to the hype. Secondly, possible victories for Mohsin Dawar and Ali Wazir, in ex-tribal areas, who have remained active members of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, also helped dispel some rumors on the military’s alleged interference in the polls.
On the other hand, the PTI is set to form a majority government in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province; a province it successfully governed in its last term. Khan’s party also emerged as the second largest party in the Sindh province as well. In Karachi, the PTI is set to bag at least 10 or more seats as per the recent count.
The results, so far, are pretty much expected. However, their interpretation is different though; the PTI had forecast its victory on the back of an anti-corruption campaign that had culminated in Nawaz Sharif’s conviction on graft charges. A campaign that was raised on the promise of demolishing the architecture of privileges.
However, even with such promises, Khan has himself come under criticism from two circles. The first one claims that Khan has lost his USP, especially, because people around, and close to, him in the party have been accused of corruption in the past.
On the other hand, there are critics, along those supporting the PML-N’s narrative, who argue that Khan has the backing of an ‘invisible hand’, commonly known as the military establishment, who have helped pave the way for Khan to become the country’s next PM. For PML N, the Sharifs and all their allies, a PTI victory was already on the cards because of establishment’s alleged preference for Khan. And hence they lost no time in rejecting results as the product of systematic rigging.
Even with losing parties alleging rigging, the chief observer of the European Union Election Observation Mission to Pakistan, Michael Gahler, issued a note of satisfaction Thursday morning. “Our observers visited as many as 300 polling stations in 87 constituencies and I have personally visited four polling stations. ……there is improvement as compared to the previous election held in 2013,” Gahler said in Islamabad.
Much will now depend on whether Shahbaz Sharif is ready to translate rejection of results into an agitation and to what extent can he go toe to toe with Khan. It is also rumored that Shahbaz might negotiate to form his party’s government in Punjab, and, in return, abstain from agitating against Khan in Islamabad.
Some criticism of Khan, before and on the Election Day, also highlights dilemmas in Pakistan’s political rhetoric. Where Nawaz Sharif announced a premature victory in 2013 on the election eve, even before half the official results were out, no one questioned the move, with the media unanimously reporting his victory. On the other hand, most statements coming from the PTI and Khan are being constantly criticized and questioned.
Even with its apparent victory, the PTI faces a plethora of problems ahead; a stagnating economy, reducing government revenues and a sharp decline exports. And if the Sharif-led opposition embarks on a path of agitation to protest what claims electoral fraud, it will further hamstring any fiscal, administrative reform that Imran Khan is so keen to pull off.
Even with complications, controversies and skepticism, it is a moment to rejoice for Pakistanis, especially because the country has (relatively) peacefully completed its third democratic transition. Only such transitions can help the country gradually evolve in terms of democratic progress and strengthening of its civilian institutions.