The state can stop Imran Khan from staying in power but it cannot reduce his popularity. Fears of “Election Engineering” and unfree elections on 8th February raise fears of increased instability in the Pakistan.
The lead-up to Pakistan’s general elections on February 8th has been fraught with a storm of political turmoil and concerns of manipulation, triggering widespread debate and scrutiny. The imprisonment of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, the founding chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, in Adiala Jail has raised alarms about the fairness of the electoral process.
Imran Khan has warned against unfair elections, stating that they would only make the situation worse and further destabilize the nation. He has charged that his removal and election results were manipulated by the military establishment, especially former army chief Gen (retd) Qamar Javed Bajwa. With ramifications for the nation’s democratic values and the integrity of the election process, Khan’s allegations of military meddling have generated heated debates.
Underlying this contentious atmosphere are concerns raised by Imran Khan about the performance of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led by Nawaz Sharif during their 16-month tenure in power. Khan has highlighted economic challenges, the exodus of professionals, and the exacerbation of external deficits, questioning PML-N’s stewardship. Additionally, Imran Khan has cited concerns about Pakistan’s relations with neighboring countries and the impact of foreign policy on regional dynamics.
The way the world responded to the anomalies in the pre-election atmosphere has also been scrutinized, with particular attention paid to the United States’ reticent position, which under the Joe Biden administration has placed a high priority on promoting democracy. The substantial debt load and skyrocketing inflation in Pakistan have highlighted how crucial the election process is to the stability and progress of the nation.
Amid the escalating tensions, both PTI and PML-N have engaged in a vigorous campaign, with PTI facing various obstacles, including the arrest of party workers, rejection of Khan’s nomination papers, and challenges in fielding candidates due to alleged pre-poll rigging. The disenfranchisement of PTI, symbolized by the denial of their iconic cricket bat symbol on ballot papers, has further raised concerns about the fairness of the electoral competition.
The reemergence of Nawaz Sharif and the perceived favoritism towards PML-N by the establishment have added to the volatile political dynamics, turning the contest into a high-stakes battle. As the parties intensify their efforts to rally support and navigate the complexities of the electoral process, the role of Pakistan’s military establishment in shaping the election outcomes has come under scrutiny, with implications for the country’s democratic principles and stability amid a challenging economic and geopolitical environment.
Opponents have, however, cited the state authorities’ crackdown on the PTI and Imran Khan as proof of extensive manipulation that might prevent the party from participating in a fair election. The captivating leader and former cricket captain, Khan, has been detained since August 2023 on a number of charges that he has refuted. Under pressure, many PTI leaders have left the party; others have defected to rival political parties, and many are hiding out to avoid being arrested.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has rejected nomination papers of multiple PTI nominees, including Imran Khan, and the party is facing challenges in retaining its iconic symbol, a cricket bat, in a legal battle with the ECP in the Supreme Court. PTI’s information secretary in Punjab, Shayan Bashir, has described the brutalization of PTI and its cadres in unprecedented ways, highlighting various obstacles faced by the party in the pre-election period.
The concerns about election manipulation in the upcoming vote are not new in Pakistan’s chequered electoral history. Analysts and sections of the political class believe that the coming vote might rank near the top of the list of most manipulated elections in the country’s democratic journey. The past elections, including the 2018 polls, have been marred by allegations of unfairness and manipulation, with questions raised by rights bodies, election monitoring groups, and the international community.
Notably, there has been close examination of Pakistan’s strong military establishment’s involvement. The military has been charged with aggressively interfering in political matters, and some pundits think it actively engaged in “election engineering” to sway the atmosphere leading up to the vote in favor of particular parties or candidates. The expeditious resolution of legal obstacles to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s candidacy upon his repatriation has sparked concerns regarding potential military intervention in manipulating the electoral landscape.
The current environment before the polls has been described as “farcical” and “fundamentally unfair” by academics and political analysts. They note that while parties and leaders have changed, the methods of manipulation and interference in the electoral process remain consistent, perpetuating a cycle of unfairness and instability in the democratic system. As Pakistan grapples with these challenges, there are calls for political parties to hold themselves accountable and for a shift in the entrenched dynamics of power and influence.
The country’s governance, stability, democratic values, and progress in the face of difficult economic and geopolitical circumstances are all at stake in the next general elections, which have turned into an extremely contentious and high-stakes contest. There has been a pattern of manipulation and meddling in the run-up to the elections, raising questions about unfairness and the influence of the strong military establishment on the results of the vote.
A fair contest may be denied to them due to widespread election manipulation, as evidenced by the incarceration of former prime minister Imran Khan and the persecution of his party, the PTI. Among the many difficulties PTI has encountered are the denial of nomination papers for its candidates and difficulties keeping its famous symbol on ballot papers.
Analysts and political observers have pointed out that historical elections in Pakistan have often been tainted to varying degrees, with the current environment before the polls described as “farcical” and “fundamentally unfair.” The swift resolution of legal hurdles against ex-premier Nawaz Sharif’s candidature upon his return to the country has raised suspicions about military involvement in shaping the electoral dynamics.
This has sparked intense debate and scrutiny, with concerns raised by rights bodies, election monitoring groups, and the international community about the fairness and transparency of the electoral process. The involvement of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment has been a subject of particular concern, with analysts suggesting that it is actively engaged in “election engineering” to manipulate the pre-election environment in favor of certain parties or candidates.
There are calls for a change in the deeply ingrained dynamics of power and influence as well as for political parties to take responsibility for their actions as the nation struggles with these issues. Experts and critics claim that the way PTI and its leaders have been singled out and put under pressure is unlike anything that has ever happened in Pakistan’s history, demonstrating the depth of meddling and manipulation in the electoral process.
The situation has also drawn attention to broader issues of governance, democracy, and the need for reforms to ensure a level playing field for all political actors. The upcoming elections are being closely watched both domestically and internationally due to their critical implications for Pakistan’s stability, democratic principles, and development in a challenging economic and geopolitical environment.