109.5 million Pakistanis will vote to elect their next Prime Minister for its 11th General Elections since 1970. On the forefront of the elections are Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Pakistan People’s Party along with many independent players.
No Prime Minister in the country has completed a full five-year term and this election would be the second civilian to civilian handover of power provided everything goes smoothly. The first happened in 2013.
The elections are widely seen as fight between cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s PTI and outgoing PML-N led by Shahbaz Sharif who is at the helm of the party with his brother Nawaz Sharif in jail on corruption charges.
There are 272 directly elected seats and 70 reserved seats in the National Assembly up for grabs in Pakistan’s four provinces : Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The main battleground is the Punjab province where half of the 272 directly elected seats are located.
Pakistan has shuttled between quasi-democracy and military rule for the past 70 years witnessing democracy in the most diluted form and this election is no different. Just as in the past, military’s involvement in politics is again at the end of suspicion with courts selectively applying laws to keep the Sharifs in the jail ahead of the votes. Justice Shaukhat Aziz Siddiqui of Islamabad High Court has claimed that ISI is interfering with the judiciary to clip the wings of the outgoing government. Further with the military administering the voting process on election day, some are expecting a coup if the results don’t favour it.
With the authorities doing nothing against banned militant groups participating in the elections, violence and unfair elections seem a reality. Jamaat-ud-Dawa, Lakshar-e-Taiba and Lakshar-e-Jhangvi are some of the terror outfits participating in the elections through their political fronts.
The local media is under pressure to cover only selective events giving a more democratic outlook to the whole process than it really is with many suspecting a military backing for Imran Khan.. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says there have been “blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts” to manipulate the polls, with “alarming implications for Pakistan’s transition to an effective democracy”.
The results of the elections will highly impact Pakistan’s democratic future and its foreign policy. What course Pakistan takes will be decided on July 24 and will be closely watched over by political pundits all over the world.