Those who were sceptical of the general election being held in February 2024 will have likely felt a sense of calm after the government’s decision to release funds to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the upcoming electoral exercise.
The pessimism on the part of some was rooted in the delays made by the federal government to release funds required to hold the upcoming general elections. Now that the Finance Division has released Rs17.4 billion to the ECP, in addition to the Rs10 billion released in July 2023, the 2024 election looks more real than before.
Pakistan’s political landscape does offer more than a fair share of scepticism and pessimism when it comes to timely holding of elections, especially given the past year. Adding to the complications are the MQM, GDA, and PML-N which have rejected the delimitation exercise in Sindh. Meanwhile, the PTI’s intra-party elections have been challenged by its founding member Akbar S Babar. The fate of Imran Khan still remains uncertain as the ECP has reserved its verdict on a petition that was filed to remove Imran Khan as the chairperson of the PTI and declare the party ineligible for obtaining its electoral symbol ‘bat’.
These are not small issues and do require careful deliberations if we are to hold a free and fair election. But in Pakistan, last-minute issues are the hallmark of elections. Political observers also believe that these are indications that the PTI’s travails are far from over and the dilly-dallying on these petitions may result in some drastic results. PTI leaders have also voiced their reservations over what they say is the ECP’s attempt to make it difficult for the party to contest elections. For some political observers, such reservations raise questions about the transparency of the upcoming elections.
Although the PTI’s popularity may not have been affected, it does stand threatened by ‘technicalities’. The new blue-eyed party in town is waiting for its leader – Nawaz Sharif – to emerge from the shadows of his legal woes. The delay in the party starting its election campaign may mean election tickets have not been finalized but the PML-N is not sitting around doing nothing. The party is busy stitching up its alliances in different provinces – forging an anti-PPP alliance in Sindh with the MQM, GDA and JUI-F and with the JUI-F in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The need for this may also stem from how the PPP is playing the field, conveniently forgetting its PDM-coalition alliance government. Nawaz met JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman on Monday, his second meeting with his PDM ally in two weeks. It is interesting to note that the JUI-F spokesperson gave a statement recently that Maulana will become the next president of Pakistan. While Nawaz and Maulana have not discussed this formally in their meeting, it is no secret that the JUI-F leader has had this ‘wish’ for quite some time now. Some experts believe that if the PML-N forms the next government, it may have to acquiesce to Maulana’s demand though the party may very well back out of this post-election. With all political soothsayers predicting a coalition government again, for now the PPP seems to be in full election mode, the PML-N seems to be trying to shed its legal battles, and both parties seem to be trying to somehow battle the popularity Imran still enjoys. Experts say that whatever the ECP decides in the next few weeks will decide the fate of the PTI but they also warn that any attempt at highhandedness could make the elections more controversial than they already are.
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