17.02.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Some results of the general elections in Pakistan

Elections in Pakistan

So, contrary to the scepticism of some Pakistani experts, shared by the author of this article, general elections to the lower house of the central parliament (the “National Assembly”) as well as to four provincial parliaments were held in this country. Moreover, on 8 February this year, the date “finally fixed” (after a number of postponements).

It should be noted that this scepticism was also based on the fact of initiating the issue of another postponement of the election date, which was raised a month earlier in the upper house of the central parliament (Senate). The reasons for this were (which have long been identified and have not disappeared) mainly objective motives, but also “subjective” ones. These were mainly caused by the extremely difficult internal situation in the country.

Here we will refer only to the most recent fact of conviction of former (between July 2018 and April 2022) Prime Minister Imran Khan for 14 years in prison. He and the recently suspended Justice Movement party, which he recently led, remain popular among, if not the entire population of the country, then a very significant part of it.

The fact is that this party was excluded from participation in the current electoral process. While its members, as “independent” candidates, seem to have performed very well. And judging by preliminary data, no less successfully than in the previous elections in the summer of 2018, which resulted in I. Khan taking the post of prime minister.

However, we should also note such an important moment of that time as the de facto exclusion from participation in the 2018 elections of I. Khan’s main opponent, which was (and still is) the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) party headed by Nawaz Sharif, who had previously served as prime minister three times. Who, judging by the level of presence in the Pakistani media space of the last half of the year, as well as in connection with the repressions against the “Movement for Justice”, was “appointed” as the favourite of the current electoral cycle.

Although the process of summarising its results is being delayed (some “technical” problems with the counting of votes arose an hour after the polling stations closed), it is already possible to say that the expectations of the directors of this political action regarding not only N. Sharif himself, but also the party he leads, are not being met. Despite the initial statements of the same N. Sharif about “victory”, which were soon replaced by calls “to other parties” about the need to form a coalition government.

While according to the current leader of the Movement for Justice, Barrister Gohar, it is his party (in coalition with some “minorities”) that intends to lead the new government of Pakistan. Since the number of “independent” candidates supported by the “Justice Movement” who passed to the 350-seat National Assembly, according to the same B. Gohar, already significantly exceeds the number of winning candidates from the “Pakistan Muslim League (N)”.

And here, before the results of the elections are officially announced (which, hopefully, will not provoke “undesirable excesses”), it makes sense to discuss more general topics concerning, let us repeat, the extremely complicated internal political situation in Pakistan. This situation is, moreover, closely interrelated with the equally complex situation surrounding the country.

Let us mention only the most recent incident, which was caused by separatist sentiments among Baloch people who live in the border areas of both Pakistan and Iran. When after the exchange of “precision strikes” against Baloch people of their neighbour, relations between these generally friendly countries broke down (however, it was short-lived).

Under these circumstances, the special position of the Army in the internal political life of Pakistan is quite understandable, which, among other things, fulfils the role of almost the only guarantor of preserving the territorial integrity of the country, which is, in fact, a nuclear power. Meanwhile, deep fault lines of all kinds have long been running through its body. Including those caused by the uncompromising nature of the struggle between several political clans. This was once again manifested in the course of the last elections.

However, in the author’s opinion, this last factor is also substantially conditioned by the fact that the Army has to fulfil functions that are not its own. Even though the available “toolkit” of influence on political processes is, in general, quite uncomplicated. It is illustrated quite accurately in the photo-illustration of an article on the environment in which the main act of democracy in Pakistan took place. While Realpolitik and real life in general are extremely complex.

However, more than any other state institution, the Pakistan Army realises the perniciousness of the initial decades-long, debilitating military-political confrontation with India. It was the Army leadership that took the initiative to establish contacts with its Indian counterparts as early as late 2016. The Justice Movement party led by I. Khan was brought to power a year and a half later with the aim of its subsequent transfer to the political plane.

However, it was done in the same “unpretentious” way, when I. Khan’s way to power was actually cleared. Khan’s path to power was actually cleared of the presence of his main rival N. Sharif, against whom several court cases were initiated on charges of corruption. After that, the latter hurriedly went to London to improve his suddenly failing health. He stayed there until last autumn with a short three-week break, which fell just during the period of the previous elections. When N. Sharif appeared in Islamabad to take part in them, he was immediately and clearly pointed out the inappropriateness of such intentions.

However, things did not go well for I. Khan with India either and in early 2021, the then Army Chief General K.D. Bajwa made another “move” in its direction (bypassing the Prime Minister). Of course, the problem in relations with India (the solution to which is unclear) is not the only reason for the current attempts of the Army leadership to turn back the clock. In fact, this is what the entire current electoral process has turned into. The first “victory” statement of N. Sharif, in which his intention to improve relations with India was made clear enough, was noteworthy in this respect.

In particular, the problem of the almost catastrophic situation in the financial and economic sphere, which gave rise to particularly grave claims against the Justice Movement and I. Khan personally by the same N. Sharif, was not touched upon here. He continues to position himself almost as “the only saviour of the nation”. The presence of a number of “external” factors in the political field of Pakistan is quite clearly visible.

However, let us again point to the specifics of the situation in and around Pakistan (which, however, also applies to a number of other Asian countries), which prompted the Army to engage in activities that were not its own. Today, in his letters, I. Khan speaks about the “machinations of the generals”, as a result of which he was removed from power and ended up in prison. It is only necessary to add that he became the head of the country’s government as a result of similar “intrigues” of the same “generals”.

It seems appropriate to conclude this text by referring to a remarkable statement by the current chief among them, General Asim Munir. It was made a day after the elections at a meeting with the leaders of the major parties and was a call for “an end to anarchy and polarisation” and for the main political forces to work together. For this purpose, the latter should rise above narrow party interests and act in concert for the good of the country.

The author of this article fully shares this viewpoint of Pakistan’s most influential politician, although he doubts its realisability.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, an expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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