/ 08 February 2024

Pakistan votes, big style


The Squiz

As elections go, Pakistan’s general election today is a big one. It’s the world’s 5th most populous country, which means it’s a vast election to stage – 128 million voters will choose from 5,121 candidates across 167 political parties to elect 266 representatives. And tensions are also high… In 2023, Pakistan saw a surge in violence connected to the campaigns and reports this morning say 26 people have been killed in 2 explosions near candidates’ offices overnight. That led election observers to have low expectations for a free and fair election. A lot of the focus is on former PM/cricket great Imran Khan, the alleged crackdown on his supporters, and the suppression of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

What’s the Khan story?

Last year, Khan was arrested and sentenced to 3 years in jail for selling/keeping gifts he received while PM. But that’s not all… In the last few weeks, Khan and his wife Bushra Bibi were handed multiple jail sentences from some of the 150 cases launched against him. Khan says it’s part of a plot by Pakistan’s all-powerful military establishment to keep him and the PTI out of power. That’s not been proven, but the military has form on interfering in the nation’s politics. This leads us to an interesting twist in the tale… The leading candidate for today’s election is Nawaz Sharif – he’s been PM 3 times before and was removed in a military coup. Sharif is back in favour with the military and poised to recapture the top job. As they say in the classics, the fourth time’s the charm…

What’s at stake in this election?

Not to be dramatic, but Pakistan is a huge country with nuclear weapons and a tetchy relationship with 3 of its 4 neighbours, including Iran. The nation is also in a world of economic pain with inflation nearing 30% – and it’s relying on the International Monetary Fund to avoid defaulting on its debt. So eyes from around the world are on this election… Pakistan’s electoral commission will announce the unofficial results on Friday, with the official tally due by 22 February. It’s also worth noting that Pakistan is one of the first nations to vote in a bumper year for democracy, with voters in India, Indonesia, and (of course) the US amongst those heading to the ballot box. Best of luck out there, voters…

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