After controversial polls, Imran Khan set to be Prime Minister of Pakistan

The former cricketer’s PTI was leading in 119 of the 270 seats for which elections were held. The PML-N, which is placed second, alleged massive irregularities in the process

July 26, 2018 by Peoples Dispatch
Around 106 million people were eligible to vote in the elections in Pakistan that were held on July 25. Photo: Ahmad Kamal/Xinhua/IANS

After a campaign marked by instances of violence, and a polling day marred by allegations of vote rigging and a suicide bombing in the city of Quetta, election results in Pakistan were declared on Thursday. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, led by former cricketer Imran Khan, which is believed to have had the support of the military establishment, emerged the single largest party, winning 115 of the 270 seats in the National Assembly. The incumbent Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) was second with 64 seats and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) bagged 43 seats.

The PML-N managed to win the maximum number of seats in the provincial elections in its stronghold, Punjab, although the PTI came a close second. The PPP will form the government in the Sindh province. The PTI surprised observers by retaining the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province while in Balochistan province, the Balochistan Awami Party was the single largest party.

In a press conference after the results were announced, Imran Khan struck a conciliatory note and offered to cooperate in any investigation into rigging. He also promised a new style of governance and expressed his intention to strengthen ties with Pakistan’s traditional ally, China.

Almost 106 million registered voters were expected to cast their vote on July 25. Despite the heavy rain in different parts of the country and death of scores of civilians in the Balochistan suicide attack, the turnout, as per the authorities, was 51%, only 2% less than the previous elections where Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) emerged victorious.

However key opposition parties disputed the results. PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif alleged widespread irregularities. Citing examples such as an incident in the polling station in DG Khan where the PML-N agent was pushed out, he said the party would explore all options to expose these excesses and get them redressed. He said at a press conference that the day’s incidents had pushed the country back by 30 years.

“This is.. outright rigging and the results based on massive rigging will cause irreparable damage to the country,” he tweeted.

Pakistan Peoples Party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also tweeted that his parties agents had been evicted from polling booths across the country.

Another key development was the failure of religious extremist parties to make an impact on the polls. Whether it was the Khadim Rizvi-led Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan, the Milli Muslim League that was backed by the banned Jamaat ul Dawaah of Hafiz Saeed, or the Muttahida Majlis Amal that was in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the mid-2000s, all of them performed poorer than expected.

A delay in the announcement of results also led to some controversy. Muhammad Raza Khan, the Chief Election Commissioner, attributed it to technical difficulties as they were using a new results transmission system.

A flawed outsider

Imran Khan positioned himself as an outsider and someone who would bring about change in an attempt to appeal to younger voters. But many are not convinced by the argument. Taimur Rehman of the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party told Peoples Dispatch that “Leftist and Progressive forces are opposed to Imran Khan because he represents a right-wing shift in Pakistan’s politics.”

“He strongly supported the military establishment and the religious right wing and among the candidates of his party were feudal lords and capitalists. Imran has become the new champion of this block that has always helped the rise of the right in Pakistan,” Taimur said.

On the reason behind Imran Khan’s success in the elections, Taimur pointed to the creation of a narrative beginning with incidents such as the dismissal of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “Media organizations, among others, promoted this narrative of tampering and censorship and how all politicians were corrupt and there was a need for a fresh face. This was also Imran Khan’s narrative from the very beginning,” he explained.

He noted the context in which the election was held “The military was literally inside the polling stations and considering the politics going on over the past few months, the signals were quite clear that the military certainly didn’t play the neutral role,” Taimur said.

The elections also saw parties that were part of the Left United Front putting up a number of candidates. Taimur said the overall performance of the left was much better than the previous election although there was still a long way to go.

In the aftermath of the elections, he said he saw a broad anti-right wing front coming into being. “Already, a left democratic front of around 10 parties has been formed, But I think the new front has to be broader and should include elements from the left of center and even the center. This will come together relatively quickly” he said.

32 killed in blast

Earlier on the day of polling, a blast occurred in the eastern part of Quetta near a school where polling was taking place. As many as 32 people were killed in the attack and scores were wounded.

The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack. Over the past week, three similar attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan had resulted in the death of over 150 people and saw over 250 getting injured.

The article was updated to reflect the final results

(With inputs from Umer Beigh and V. Arun Kumar)