Pakistan's General Elections
Courtesy of Hindustan Times
What is the status of Pakistan’s general elections?
In mid-August, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced the general parliamentary elections will be delayed until January 2024. This decision was allegedly based on the need to redraw constituencies to match the recent census reports. According to the Constitution of Pakistan, elections are supposed to occur less than 90 days after the meeting of the National Assembly. The assembly this year took place on August 9 under the supervision of President Arif Alvi and former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, calling for an election to occur no later than November 7th. This decision to delay the general election solidifies fears of the decay of democracy under the current military-backed government.
What does the delayed election mean for Pakistan?
The postponement of the general elections prompts the fear that democracy will be overridden indefinitely. The military of Pakistan lurks over fairly elected officials, having admitted to tampering with domestic politics in the past. The circumstance regarding the removal of Prime Minister Imran Khan is one of the most recent military ploys, heightening political volatility. In April 2022, Khan was taken out of office through a vote of no-confidence, and then arrested on alleged charges of corruption.
Members of the public saw this action as a threat to elected representation, furthered by Khan’s claim that military chief Gen Asim Munir was behind his framing. After the incident involving Khan, members of the PTI party continued to be charged with misdemeanors or removed from politics altogether. The removal of Khan is certainly not the first time a prime minister’s term has been cut short: the past five prime ministers have left office either imprisoned or accused. This suspicious trend began with the removal of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, who was jailed based on “anti-state” charges in 1962, but was also an opponent of the Pakistani military. In 1990 and 1993, Pakistan’s first woman prime minister Benazir Bhutto was sentenced to prison twice after public defamation of a leading military figure, Ziaul Haq. While the government obeys democratic policy through the election of prime ministers, none of these leaders have served enough of a term to display the interests of the common citizen on regulation and law within Pakistan.
How should the Pakistani government be operating?
The elections in Pakistan, according to the Constitution, should follow the parliamentary model with a separate head of state and a leader of government. The country has two hundred and twenty-seven established constituencies, each of which elects one representative to the National Assembly. Of these representatives, ten seats are reserved for non-Muslim candidates and an additional sixty seats are reserved for women.
The districts would vote for their elected representatives across a variety of parties, the most notable being the PTI led by Khan, the PMLN led by Sharif, and the PPP led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. What the Constitution does not outline, however, is the restriction of the military on governmental proceedings. The Pakistani military continues to maintain a strong grip on election regulations, proving it is not willing to relinquish control. Some actions taken by the Army within Pakistani politics include starting coups, administration interference, and strong arming elected officials.
While certain parties have voiced concern about the Army’s impending influence, such as the PMLN, they immediately withdrew all opinions after the military provided political support. Unfortunately the interest of governmental power within leaders is enough to dissuade protection of civilian democratic rights.
What is significant about Khan’s removal?
The recent removal of Prime Minister Khan has prompted more uprisings and public pushback against the Pakistani military than ever before. A former cricket player and celebrity, Khan was able to use grassroots movements and recognition to gain political traction, creating intense fan loyalties. Protests against his removal became so widespread and destructive that military officials shut down the internet to prevent further gatherings. Khan’s removal is also unique given his tight knit relationship with key members of the Pakistani military, causing rifts in Gen Munir’s carefully crafted network of soldiers. Rumors circulated that senior commanders refused to follow Munir after Khan was seized. Opting to speak out about his biased removal, Khan slandered Munir in an interview at court stating, “He is basically dismantling the future of this country to protect itself.”
While his downfall could be the catalyst that helps overturn Pakistan’s current militant regime, others speculate his support is not enough. Madiha Afzal writes, “Khan’s popular support has protected him against the establishment’s assertiveness until now. But now that the establishment has asserted itself, it’s hard to see it backing down anytime soon”In either case, Pakistan is entering an era of political unease and turmoil that threatens the operations of democracy in the country.