Pakistan: Will February 8 Elections Strengthen Democracy And Bring Economic Stability? – OpEd


After Pakistan witnessed political, judicial, and economic strife during PTI four four-year government and when it reached new heights with the ouster of Imran Khan and the installation of the PDM and later on caretaker parliament, at this momentous juncture, the Pakistani voters gave their verdict in the February 8 general elections. Over 60 million voters participated in the 12th general elections. Several political parties across the country participated to elect representatives in the 265 national assembly and 590 provincial assembly constituencies. The results have led to a split mandate, and no party has been able to win a simple majority in the National Assembly.

The February 8 elections were expected to bring political stability and economic development to the country but unfortunately, pre-poll political engineering and post-poll maneuvered results have dashed all expectations attached to the recent elections by the nation and international community as well.

It is perhaps the most consequential, election in Pakistan’s recent history. Defying all odds, particularly PTI voters turned out in record numbers. They have spoken out, loud and clear, and given their verdict. PTI-backed independents have emerged as the largest group with 92 seats. The PML-N and the PPP have come second and third with 77 and 54 seats respectively. The MQM has won 17 seats and independents managed to grab 12 seats; the JUI-F and the PML-Q have won four and three seats respectively, while the remaining ones have gone to smaller parties.

At the Provincial level, PTI-backed independents have had a landslide victory in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and are in a comfortable position to form the provincial government with 83 seats. The PTI has also won 39 out of the 45 National Assembly seats from KP and has practically swept away all the other parties in KP. Voters in KP have given an overwhelming mandate to the PTI, clearly rejecting anti-Imran Khan propaganda and supporting the party-backed candidates overwhelmingly.

As expected, the PPP has swept the elections in rural Sindh and won more seats (84) than a simple majority required in the Sindh Assembly to form a provincial government. Most of the National Assembly seats won by the PPP are from rural Sindh; it managed to win seven seats from Karachi. The anti-PPP political alliance, the GDA, failed to win a single National Assembly seat from Sindh. In Karachi, the MQM made a strong comeback with 15 seats; the PTI failed to win a single seat from Sindh.
In Punjab, the PML-N has emerged as the largest party by winning 71 National Assembly seats out of 141. The PTI has won 55 seats from Punjab. In the Punjab Assembly, the PML-N has bagged 137 seats, and the PTI has won around 111 seats. In Baluchistan, PPPP has 11 followed by JUI F 11 and PML-N 10 including independent 6 and other parties including Pashtoon and Baloch nationalist parties own 13 Provincial seats.

But in fact, the people’s mandate seems to have been stolen yet again. The stories of rigging, corruption on a higher scale, and maneuvering results coming out, so far, throughout the country, particularly in Baluchistan province have died down all the expectations attached to the recent elections for political stability and economic development by the people.

Most observers within the country and abroad agree that voters expressed their disdain for establishment meddling in politics and showed disapproval for high-handedness and repression by voting for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) affiliated independents. 

Despite the alleged irregularities, the PTI-backed ‘independents’ have emerged as the single largest group. However, since the PTI is not recognized as a parliamentary party, it cannot get its share of some 70 reserved seats for women and religious minorities. Hence, the party cannot achieve even a simple majority to form a government at the center.

The highly controversial results of Pakistan’s twelfth general election, have created both a threat and an opportunity for the country. The threat is one of political deadlock and confrontation; the opportunity is for defining a political way forward that is different from Pakistan’s turbulent past. However, the split mandate and the formula about the formation of government in the center only by PMLN with the support of PPP including MQM, and the PPP decision to remain out of the central government and take only constitutional positions does not work, will hardly last for long and will not be in a position to meet the pressing challenges facing the nation on all fronts, particularly security, economy, and politics.

The UN SG, Western media including the US have requested for Pakistan to hold an independent investigation into the claims of election irregularities through its legal system. The US State Department’s spokesperson Matthew Miller, responding to a question said that the US had also conveyed to Pakistan the need for their government to respect the will of the election. “We emphasize that we want to see the rule of law, respect for the constitution, free press, vibrant civil society respected in the run of the elections, and we continue to believe that is the case,” said Miller while emphasizing Washington’s commitment to democracy and freedom.

Almost all international election monitoring observers have also expressed their doubts about the transparency and validity of the elections. Even an Islamabad-based election monitoring watchdog called the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) cast serious doubts on the authenticity of the elections in its preliminary report issued on February 10.

Our history of elections held so far depicts that political engineering, constant interruptions in the political process, elite infighting for power, transgressions in the institution domains, and dysfunctional democracy have brought Pakistan to its knees. Pakistan is the only faux democracy that holds general elections yet learns nothing from each experience.
December 1970 — the first and final free and fair elections in our electoral history. Fifty-four years later, the scenario of 1970 has been repeated. Then, the Bengali leader Mujib-u-Rehman was in jail in West Pakistan. Yet, in distant East Pakistan, his Awami League swept 160 of the 162 general seats. Today, Mr. Imran Khan of PTI is in Adiala jail. Yet, his PTI nominees — bat-less, denied an uneven playing field, and harassed —secured 100-plus NA seats and a clean sweep in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

In the given situation a bleak scenario is emerging from the recent elections, and the country is proceeding towards political instability once again. In such a situation more than the political parties, the establishment should be concerned — must revisit all its strategies about political engineering—and ask whether it wants to continue on a path where it is losing public support. The establishment should be concerned about the extent to which it can afford this, especially as the state’s policies have already lost Pakistan the hearts and minds of the people throughout the country particularly in Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. 

If democracy has to take firm roots, politicians will have to pledge not to rely on non-democratic forces to come into power. All political parties should first bring democracy to their parties, shun the traditional dynastic politics, should not hobnob with un-democratic forces, and get united to oppose the crackdown on political forces. Celebrating undeclared bans on fellow politicians is an imprudent approach, which must be abandoned. They need to respect each other’s mandate and people’s will. They must devise a code of ethics that forbids them to resort to character assassination. They should also summon enough courage to openly admit their defeat. 

Is the situation on the ground charged?

Since the whole country is in a state of political uncertainty, major political parties PTI, JUI, and ANP—enemies in the past—are in contact to join hands and protest in the streets against the poll results. Similarly, in Baluchistan, a shutter-down strike was observed in Quetta and other parts of Balochistan against the alleged poll rigging on Tuesday. Four nationalist political parties namely the Balochistan National Party (BNP), Pashtoonkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), National Party (NP), and Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) are on sit-in protest against what they claimed was a record poll rigging during the recently held general elections. They have pledged that our protest will continue till fair and transparent elections. They warned of intensifying protests against the provincial and federal governments till their demands for re-poll are not met.

The protesters have also blocked the high-security zone of Quetta. PNAP’s Khushal Khan Kakar also announced an indefinite blockade of all highways in the province. Chaman is the worst affected area due to constant sit-ins against the imposition of visa and passport system on the Pak-Afghan border and now the blockade of Chaman highway by ANP in connection with election rigging. The situation on the ground is highly charged and there is every likelihood of untoward incident. The people in the province are already suffering due to the ongoing longest and bloodiest insurgency coupled with terrorist attacks particularly two consecutive blasts in Khanozai and Killa Saifullah districts one day before the polls in which dozens of civilians were killed and injured.

What to do to normalize the situation?

The forces in the corridor of power must lessen the disgruntled voice of the political parties and meet their demands for re-polling in the controversial and allegedly rigged constituencies without any delay. Politicians must set aside their hunger for power to serve the collective interests of the general population. 

In Pakistan, there is a controlled democracy and governments are formed and dissolved with the will of the establishment. But the irony is that the political party or parties remain comfortable with the establishment when they are in power. They become anti-establishment when they are out of power. If the Political parties want democracy in the country, they must be ready to democratize their political parties and shun their Traditional dynastic politics which are becoming irrelevant gradually. Major political parties operate undemocratically, functioning as authoritarian domains dominated by dynastic families, perpetuating their control through nepotism, coercion, and patronage.

In the face of multiple challenges facing the nation, it is high time for both civil and military leadership to put their hands together for the rule of law, the supremacy of the constitution, and parliamentary democracy. Work for reconciliation, and new social contact including major structural reforms in all governance systems.

No doubt the political fallout of a questionable electoral process cannot be easily resolved. Surely the country needs a healing touch but that can only happen by restoring the democratic rights of the people. The entrenched political elite has strangled democracy in the country, stifling the prospect of meaningful change. Progress can only materialize through the active participation of the electorate in a free, fair, and transparent environment.

Pakistan must seize the moment to break free from the grip of entrenched political interests, electing a new leadership capable of navigating the country toward genuine democracy, progress, and prosperity. The least that should be avoided is complicity and confrontation, and let the mandate of the people speak loud clear, and work for the betterment. The undemocratic forces must realize that their unchecked influence in government and interference in the elections undermines the democratic process, pushing Pakistan further into the quagmire of corruption and maladministration. 

In the prevailing scenario, the situation demands that instead of indulging in blame game and political point scoring better sense should prevail in both political and military leadership to come up with policies to confront the economic and security challenges together successfully. Accept the elected political leadership-peoples mandate-new inclusive Government, to address the issues facing the country. The new government must make serious and sincere efforts to make Pakistan stand on its own feet.

Both civil and military leadership should not turn blind to the volatile situation developing post-poll in the country, particularly in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They should keep in mind the 1970 elections and its aftermath- the dismemberment of the country. Politicians must keep in mind 1977 and its consequences while carrying out protests against the rigged elections-rolling back of the whole democratic system Martial law-1985 non-party elections of 1985 and the rest is history. In case both the establishment and politicians don’t learn from our history, the sufferers will be the country and its people once again.

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

One thought on “Pakistan: Will February 8 Elections Strengthen Democracy And Bring Economic Stability? – OpEd

  • February 18, 2024 at 2:07 pm

    Nicely analysed the volatile situation.


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