The first results revealed on the evening of Thursday February 8 took Pakistan by surprise: the candidates of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan’s party, came well ahead, forced to run under the banner independents. The immense astonishment delayed the counting of votes by several hours compared to the usual schedule.
Despite an aggressive campaign against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, in office from 2018 to 2022, also a former cricket star, the army, which serves as the supreme authority, did not succeed in stifling this cumbersome personality. The almost final results (251 seats were announced out of 266) published in dribbles on Friday evening confirm the tidal wave: 99 seats for the PTI, while the Pakistan Muslim League (PLM-N), the party of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, although supported by the establishment, obtained 71.
On Friday, the PTI released an audio victory speech from imprisoned Imran Khan, using a computer-generated voice to simulate his own: “ I congratulate you on your victory in the 2024 elections. I was convinced that you would all vote (…) and your massive participation stunned everyone.” Although he came second, Nawaz Sharif also welcomed his party’s victory.
A campaign against the PTI
During the night from Thursday to Friday, the candidates of PTI, Imran Khan’s party, feared that victory would be taken away from them, due to manipulation of the results by the army. Faheem Jhagra, first aide to PTI candidate Taimur Khan Jhagra in a constituency in KP province, tells The cross this crazy evening: We obtained 36,000 votes in our constituency.We partied until 2am and then got a call saying someone was messing with the results. At 6 a.m. we were told we only had 11,000 votes. We went to court to challenge this decision.” An appeal has been filed.
In Pakistan, a flood of convictions for Imran Khan
During the weeks leading up to the election, the PTI was prevented from campaigning like the other parties. Its leaders and supporters faced mass arrests, and the party was unable to use its iconic cricket bat symbol (Imran Khan is a former cricket star) to identify its candidates on the ballot, a crucial visual cue for voters who are 40% illiterate.
Imran Khan was arrested in August and sentenced to several prison terms days before the election. He was also made ineligible for five years. On the day of the vote, the mobile phone network was completely cut off until the next morning. Some PTI members saw this as an attempt to hinder the mobilization of supporters, while the Interior Ministry attributed this suspension to security imperatives. The head of the Pakistani army, the backbone of the country, issued a warning on Saturday February 10: Pakistan must break with the policy of“anarchy”.
Elections in Pakistan: the shadow of Imran Khan hangs over a vote decided in advance
Despite its lead, which reflects a solid and loyal support base, the PTI faces obstacles in forming a government. The party is not entitled to its share of the National Assembly’s 70 reserved seats for women and minorities, which are distributed based on the proportion of a party’s overall vote.
A coalition between Nawaz Sharif’s party and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which came in third place and led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (son of the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, assassinated in 2007), appears to be the most likely scenario. more likely, even if uncertainties remain.
Furthermore, many challenges await the future prime minister. The country’s 240 million inhabitants have to deal with one of the highest inflation rates in Asia. An IMF rescue plan made it possible to avoid in extremis defaulted last summer, and a new deal must be negotiated to avoid economic collapse. It is this critical situation that the next head of government will have to tackle as a priority.