The year 2024 will be marked by national electoral processes in dozens of countries. The outcome of each election will contribute to the transformation of the world order in one way or another. In this context, associations naturally arise with the upcoming presidential and congressional elections in the United States this fall, as it is the leading world power.
However, in these troubled times, it is appropriate to say the sacramental “we must live to see it”. In the coming days, weeks, and months, we should closely observe the preparation, course, and outcome of elections in several countries in the Indo-Pacific region. This region is becoming increasingly important in global political processes.
On January 7, 2024 (i.e. after the publication of this article), general elections were held in Bangladesh, where the situation looked quite tense the day before. In addition, this poor but fast-growing country of more than 170 million people has in recent years become the focus of a distinct struggle between the major regional players, namely the People’s Republic of China, India, and Japan. Besides, the situation in Bangladesh is inevitably affected by the escalating turmoil in neighboring Myanmar.
Taiwan’s parliamentary-presidential elections will be held on January 13. The outcome of the election is significant. In another three weeks (February 8), parliamentary elections are supposed to be held in Pakistan, a 240-million-strong nuclear-armed country whose situation looks no less tense than that of Bangladesh. General elections are scheduled to take place in April-May in India, Pakistan’s main opponent. Based on recent events, there should be no surprises.
Next, we will focus in more detail on the pre-election situation in Pakistan. The uncertainty surrounding the upcoming critical event in that country prompted the use of the word ‘seemingly’ quoted above. If we strictly follow the current Constitution to the letter, the elections should have already been held before mid-October 2023. The basic law prescribes that they should be held within three months after the expiration of the 5-year term of the previous Parliament, which was elected in mid-July 2018.
It is important to point out that the coalition led by the Pakistan Movement for Justice (PTI), whose leader Imran Khan took the most important post of head of government in this parliamentary republic, won a convincing victory. However, in April 2022, he was forced to leave his post early in accordance with the legally conducted procedure. Nevertheless, these actions raised serious concerns about the procedure being politically biased.
The focus of all internal problems in Pakistan is this last circumstance. These problems have always been present but have been sharply aggravated due to the uncompromising nature of the inter-party struggle. The negative state of the country’s financial and economic aspects is exacerbating the situation, causing understandable concern among the population. Various problems related to tribal, religious, and ethnic differences often result in separatist movements. Armed conflict is particularly evident in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Provinces.
On August 5, 2023, Imran Khan was sentenced by a court to three years’ imprisonment and a five-year ban on political activity on one of the many charges against him today. Since then, there has been an ongoing legal battle involving his attorneys, multiple courts, and the Electoral Commission.
The significant increase in the latter’s role during the election campaign, despite its supposed purely technical purview, is a notable feature of the current situation in Pakistan. This is especially true in light of the fact that the Electoral Commission is currently involved in a legal dispute with the same courts. It is clear that the Electoral Commission of Pakistan (EC) is attempting to exclude prominent PTI functionaries from participating in the upcoming elections in case it is unable to prevent the participation of the party as a whole. Firstly, the EC is hostile to Imran Khan who has temporarily resigned from his post as leader of the PTI, despite remaining one of the most popular politicians in the country.
Nawaz Sharif, the founder of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) and three-time prime minister, denies that political scores are being settled with his main opponent, the PTI, and its leader. The reason for this may be due to similar actions of no less dubious nature taken five years prior against Nawaz Sharif on the eve of similar parliamentary elections. The primary argument of his current public rhetoric is that he is willing to forgive personal offenses, but insists on “accountability” for the alleged damage done to the country as a whole since then.
From the camp of Nawaz Sharif’s opponents, there are concerns about the suspicious ease with which all the judicial charges that led to his suspension from participating in the electoral process five years ago are being dropped today.
Some experts use the term ‘vendetta’ to describe the nature of political struggle in Pakistan. This phenomenon is common in many countries. When the issue of power retention vs loss becomes too costly, it affects not only certain political forces but also specific individuals.
This is why the Army and other structures entitled to use force play a significant role in Pakistan’s internal political affairs. This is not endemic to Pakistan, as many other Asian countries and the ‘Global South’ experience similar situations. It is unnecessary to categorize this phenomenon as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. International parasites who promote ‘the problem of observance of democratic norms and human rights’ do just that.
The Army is currently almost the only guarantor of preventing the collapse of this, let us repeat, nuclear country. Pakistan’s army leadership has repeatedly initiated efforts to improve relations with India, the country’s main regional opponent and another nuclear power.
Despite the Army’s denials of its role in the political processes of present-day Pakistan, its influence is certain. All political forces in the country seek the support of the military. In return, the Army expressed support for the activities being undertaken by the abovementioned EC to prepare for the forthcoming elections.
It is rather likely that this factor accounts for the specific status of this technical body in the current Pakistani electoral process. Among other responsibilities, the EC determines the date of elections. After significant delays, in the middle of December 2023, the elections were finally scheduled for February 8, 2024, and the state budget provides the necessary financial resources to support them.
As recently as early January 2024, doubts were raised about the possibility of holding elections on the officially announced date. The final list of parties and individual participants for the upcoming electoral process is due to be published only on January 22. To reiterate, ongoing litigation involves some of the key politicians. In addition, the abovementioned PTI has made claims about the lack of equal opportunities to run for office.
All this means that the parliamentary elections in Pakistan, which will be inevitably held sooner or later, may prove to be a significant test for the nation.
We wish that country to overcome this issue without causing significant harm to Pakistan itself or the surrounding environment.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.