Shadows over Democracy: Pakistan’s Electoral Quandary

A struggle is ongoing in Pakistan where a youth mobilization for a brighter future is facing up against historical military dominance. I believe the country’s hope rests in the PML-N party.

Mar 26, 2024

![Image description: A collage captures the essence of civic duty, with a hand casting a ballot against the backdrop of Pakistan’s map and flag, signaling the nation’s call to action for the 2024 elections.]( Elections 2024.png)
This is no regular election cycle. There are no “primaries” where candidates from different political parties debate each other to choose who best represents the party’s interests and policies. In fact, in Pakistan, there exists no such system at all. I remember struggling to define the political status quo of my nation as I sat in Professor Jensen’s lecture about different electoral systems last fall. Ultimately, I gave up and went to him for a quick chat after class about the topic.
“Pakistan is not what you would call a fully functioning democracy; only its political facade is democratic - the roots remain authoritarian,” he asserted. Of course, this proclamation by my professor did not come as news to me. I was and remain perfectly aware of Pakistan’s self-proclaimed Islamic “democracy.” I then approached my father with the same burgeoning curiosity. All he did was paint a bleak picture. His opinions resembled what a local Pakistani publication’s op-ed piece sponsored by the political party sitting on the opposition benches, would look like; in other words, anti-establishment rhetorical statements.
Feb. 5, 2024 As of recently, the election cycle was underway after the last government left office in July 2023, post a short 14-month ruling period, which resulted from the vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan’s government in 2022 after he had remained Prime Minister since the last elections of 2018. However, when I wrote this section of the article, Pakistan was 72 hours away from its election polls going live. It was likely a preamble to what might turn out to be the most promising elections in the history of Pakistan. Al-Jazeera had dubbed it the “referendum on military involvement in politics in Pakistan.” Why was that important, you might ask. What does the military have to do with a process that is supposed to be purely democratic and for the civilian population? Well, the military establishment has been the puppeteer of the civilian political parties for as long as Pakistan has been an independent country. The times it has not had the strings in its hands are when they have been in power themselves, through 4 eras of military dictatorships spanning a total of 35 years in a short history of 75 years of independence.
Feb. 18, 2024 Ten days after the elections elapsed, marking an important day in Pakistan’s recent history when the general population came out in huge numbers to vote Imran Khan back into power, essentially voting against the military establishment calling all the shots. 266 seats in the National Assembly are contested in these general elections - to form the government or, in essence, elect the desired Prime Minister to office. One of the following two things can be done by a political party: win a simple majority of the seats in parliament, which would be 134 in this case, or form a coalition with other parties to have a simple majority in the assembly. The latter has mostly been the case.
This time has been no exception. The military had the final say by rigging the elections to make their favorable candidates win seats. These candidates have been in talks with the military before the elections and plan to pander to their demands to the maximum. Still, the critical aspect of the elections was the final turnout. Do not get me wrong, it’s not like 70 to 75% of the population came out to vote - proportionally, it was still around 52% of the total voter base, but most of it was the youngsters of Pakistan, Imran Khan’s leading target group. Despite him and his senior party members being in jail and his party getting banned and obstructed at every step of the election campaign leading up to the big day, they still managed to undertake an extensive online campaign to raise awareness about the issues of the Sharifs and the Bhuttos, how voting is a right people should exercise to counter authoritarianism and were able to successfully get voters out of their houses and into the polling stations.
Above is a graphic from the Al Jazeera news article publishing the final results, finally coming out on the 13th of February, 120 hours after polling officially closed. While it is clear that no party could manage to win a simple majority of more than 133 seats in the National Assembly, it also became evident that the party with mass popular support is Imran Khan’s PTI, as, despite extensive rigging campaigns, they were able to secure close to a hundred constituencies. Journalists and political analysts on Pakistan television have gone as far as claiming that PTI won close to 150 seats in actuality but was robbed of their mandate, and their winnings were reduced so that they cannot form a majority in the Assembly.
An exciting revelation on the 17th of February by the head of the Election Commission in Rawalpindi claimed that voting was manipulated in the city across all constituencies and that significant leads of PTI-backed candidates were overthrown in front of polling officers by “unnamed officials” and no one was allowed to say anything about it. The Chief Election Commissioner has obviously dismissed these allegations and claimed that the elections were held freely and fairly, without any external influence or voter manipulation. It still needs to be decided what the Supreme Court thinks about this situation, with PTI lawyers demanding a recount of the votes, or an independent audit of the election results. News coverage from the country ends here, but in reality, the future still appears bleak for Pakistan with no real contender for the formation of the government - and whoever does end up taking office needs to make some really tough decisions for the country’s failing economy and, indirectly, end up losing their popularity simply because they end up being the ones that are held responsible for hyper-inflation, decreasing wages, and rising unemployment.
This aforementioned party, I believe, needs to be PML-N this time because the country's general population has voted against military-installed establishments and authoritarianism, the crumbling bureaucracy and political infrastructure, and in favor of a civilian government that can bring about tangible change. The PML-N coming into office will essentially mean the loss in popularity of the army, significant protests against dynasty politics, and a move towards a more “functioning” democracy for the first time in Pakistan’s 76-year history. In no way is this piece trying to rally support for Imran Khan - in actuality, his government also failed on many counts just because the military does not let go of the puppet threads that control the politicians in power. This piece only tries to raise awareness as to how corrupt, power-hungry, and inept the Pakistani military continues to be despite these elections proving that they have lost the confidence of the majority of the population, especially the younger generation that formed a significant part of the voter base this time around.
March 15, 2024 Nearly five weeks after the election have elapsed. The PML-N, with the help of the PPP, has taken office for the fourth time in 34 years. We are yet to witness, of course, how effective this “new” setup will be. Still, if I have seen something that continually proves itself to be true in Pakistan’s political status quo, it is that no significant progress can be made without the say-so of the military. And it appears they will go to any limit to keep themselves well-fed and in power, consequences be damned.
Abdullah Yusuf is a contributing writer. Email them at
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