Islamabad, Dec 2 (IANS) Pakistan’s process of transition of power through general elections is scheduled for February 8, 2024, a date chosen by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), an institution mandated to hold general elections but which has already abdicated its constitutional responsibility to hold polls within 90 days since August 2023.
The country’s caretaker government, under interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, which took charge in August 2023, had the task to organize the general election within the assigned 90 days of taking over. Instead it opted for an extension of its tenure and left it to the ECP to decide on a date for the elections.
Among many reasons, the caretaker government has maintained that the deteriorating security situation, economic tumult and the restructuring of constituencies as per the recent digital census have been a hurdle for the ECP to hold polls within the constitutionally assigned 90 days.
While many voices in the country still doubt that the ECP would be able to hold polls by 8th February 2024; it seems that the prospect of general elections in February 2024 are bright as the ECP published the final delimitation list of constituencies for the national and provincial assemblies.
As per the notification, Pakistan’s National Assembly has a total of 266 general seats, 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims and 60 reserved seats for women, bringing the total to 336.
The mainstream political parties are also up and running with their election campaigns, political strategies and maneuvers to gain more support from electable candidates.
However, serious questions remain over the credibility of the polls and the voting process as many believe that a pre-poll plan is being implemented by the military establishment to guide one political party to power, and ensure a complete dismantlement of another, whose leader has been imprisoned, a crackdown on its leaders and workers intensified and legal cases with serious charges mounted.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the country’s most popular political force led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the country’s most popular political figure and leader, has been completely dismantled through a crackdown that has pushed the majority of the party leadership to leave the party, workers to go in hiding amid fears of indefinite imprisonment. This followed the violent protests by PTI workers on May 9, 2023, in which, military installations were targeted and vandalized over the arrest of their leader Imran Khan.
Imran Khan has seen the tide turn against him as the support of the military establishment, which he enjoyed in 2018 to become the prime minister, has disappeared since the new Army Chief General Syed Asim Munir took charge.
Khan’s strong anti-military stance and narrative through massive public rallies has worked against him. An aggressive response to the 9th May 2023 riots resulted in the crackdown, arrests and raids on his party members, leading to their statements against Imran Khan and disassociation with the party.
Imran Khan also faces cases of corruption and sedition along with allegedly masterminding the May 9 riots targeting sensitive military installations in the country.
The legal challenges for Imran Khan have almost made it certain that the next polls may not have him as one of the candidates and he may remain behind bars and face legal challenges while the country elects its new government.
On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif, a three-time premier of the country, has returned as a hero to Pakistan after years of self-imposed exile. Sharif is seen as a strong and powerful politician but is also among the most controversial candidates for premiership.
“It is the writing on the wall that Nawaz Sharif has come back after doing a deal with the military establishment. You see it for yourself, all corruption cases against him are being brushed aside, all charges levelled against him of corruption and illegal practices, have suddenly turned out to be false.
“The petitioner, NAB (National Accountability Bureau) has said that they have no evidence to back their claims in all corruption cases against him. The same NAB had sent the Sharif family to jail during Imran Khan’s tenure. So it is clear that the system is being twisted yet again to make way for Nawaz Sharif”, said senior political analyst Adnan Shauqat.
He added: “The elections are required to be free and fair. But unfortunately, these elections are also nothing less than a selection process and pre-planned arrangements. The elections may be held in February 2024, but they most certainly will not be credible.”
It would not be wrong to assess that the next government would be a coalition government with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) being the two frontrunners for a majority in the federal and provincial governments.
Former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has already alleged that a clear pathway is being facilitated for the PML-N to secure a majority in parliament.
He said that it is clear that there is no level playing field in these elections as one party is today’s favorite of the military establishment to take the throne, adding that his party is no stranger to such tactics and has sacrificed for democracy and its prevalence.
While all seems to be moving smoothly towards general polls in February 2024, there are still many who are skeptical. Some elements have already knocked on the court doors seeking a delay in the polls.
At least two petitions have been filed with the ECP seeking postponement of the election date of 8 February 2024. The petitioners cited security issues and snowfall in several districts during February. The ECP, however, has assured that it would ensure elections on 8 February 2024. But the big question still remains: Would the elections be free and fair?