Challenges Ahead: Pakistan’s Post-Election Turmoil And The Resilience Of Democracy

The 126.6 million Pakistanis voters responded forcefully to months of repression and the deliberate persecution of former prime minister Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), on February 8th, 2024. They did so by casting ballots against the nation’s dominant military establishment in the general elections for the 16th National Assembly. Consequently, independent candidates won 102 seats, 93 of which belonged to those affiliated with the PTI. The second and third most-voted parties were the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), with 75 and 54 seats respectively. As of March 3rd, after securing an alliance with the PPP (and six other parties) worth 201 seats out of 336, Mr. Shehbaz Sharif of the PML-N is the country’s new PM.

In an article for New Dehli Television Ltd (an Indian news media founded in 1984), professor Harsh V. Pant, a professor of international relations in the Defense Studies Department and the India Institute at King’s College London, writes that the results of these elections could not have been worse. The new coalition now has to deal with a strong opposition, which is also backed by the people. This shaky government will never have the capacity to implement the policy reforms necessary for the country to face its ongoing crises. With an inflation rate of over 20% and nearly 40% of the population living below the poverty line, as reported by Pakistani institutions, Sharif still has to deal with the IMF. Aside from the dire economic and financial situations, Professor Pant contends that Pakistan’s main challenge is  domestic political polarisation, now at an all-time high due to the army’s opposition to Imran Khan’s mounting popularity.

It is difficult to disagree with Professor Pant. The army’s support for the new PM and his party, combined with the current economic crisis, could degenerate into the repression of Khan’s supporters. Pakistan’s internal instability may have been hampered by the fact that Mr. Khan did not want to ally with any main parties. Conversely, Khan’s move shifted popular opinion in his favour, which suggests that this is not the end for the PTI and that this new government will not last long. Still, this power game may destabilise the whole Southeast, and, more importantly, it may cost the lives of innocent Pakistanis who will exercise their democratic right to support the candidate they prefer.

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who was favoured by the military, returned from London in October 2023 after serving four years in exile. In 2018, he was disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan from holding public office ever again and sentenced to ten years in prison, but he was predicted to win this election. In the name of national security, internet and mobile connections were shut off on election day following two terrorist strikes on the same day that left at least 28 people dead in Balochistan. If the government had not interfered, the PTI claims it would have gained more seats. The outcome, however, is still startling in that it shows that the military’s tried-and-true strategy to sway the nation’s politics has failed.

In Pakistan’s history, February 8th, 2024, will always be remembered as the day when civilians rebelled against the military. Surviving the economic crisis will be twice as difficult for the government because of the tremendous opposition Imran Khan and his associates will exercise. Furthermore, regarding the safety and security of its nuclear weapons, any instability within the nation is worrisome. Concerns have been raised over the possibility that radical organisations could obtain nuclear materials or technology in the event of severe instability, endangering regional and international security while also potentially causing domestic unrest and bloodshed.

Pakistanis have witnessed the most brutal suppression a political party has experienced in decades, but despite this, the military’s attempt to destroy the PTI was ultimately unsuccessful. The people have utilized their democratic right to vote as they have realised its power.