A controversy by any other name

February 18, 2024

Election 2024 may be different from the previous elections but remains controversial

A controversy by any other name


lectoral processes in Pakistan have often been controversial on account of delayed results, allegations of pre-poll rigging, accusations of manipulating results and invisible interventions. However, the 2024 elections have proven the most controversial. All parties, including the parties that have won the most seats or done better than the 2018 elections, are complaining of rigging. Resultantly, almost all groups are in a protest mode.

This is the first election in which independents have won the most seats in the National Assembly. However, they are unable to form a government due to technical reasons. Defection clauses do not apply to independents; therefore, the PTI is looking for another party’s platform to sit in the parliament and to keep its strength intact.

The controversy regarding the results in the 2024 elections sets these apart from the previous elections. In 2018, all political parties - including the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan and the Awami National Party - except the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf had declared the election to have been massively engineered by the Election Commission of Pakistan and the establishment. However, they agreed to sit in the parliament for the sake of democracy. The ultimate loser in the 2018 elections was the PML-N, which could not secure a majority to form even the provincial government in the Punjab after the ECP’s Result Transmission System crashed soon after the results started coming in.

The 2024 elections were the biggest electoral exercise in the country’s history with nearly 130 million voters, of which 60 million voters exercised their right to vote for nearly 18,000 candidates.

Delayed results and early projections by the media added fuel to the fire amid the extreme polarisation and political instability. As soon as results of 1 to 10 percent of the total polling stations started coming in, media’s projections developed a perception that the PTI-backed independent candidates were leading in 90 percent of constituencies for the National Assembly in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. When final results were in, the independents had won the most seats in the National Assembly and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab Assemblies. However, these included some candidates not backed by the PTI.

As soon as the results were announced, hundreds of losing candidates filed petitions before the ECP and High Courts across Pakistan, claiming that their results had been changed.

A controversy by any other name

This is the first election in which independents have won the most seats for the National Assembly. However, they are unable to form a government due to technical reasons. 

PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan, initially claimed that his party’s candidates had won 150 National Assembly seats. A couple of days later, he said, “In fact, the PTI has won 180 seats; the results of 90 of our candidates have been changed in the Punjab and Sindh.”

The PML-N accused the ECP of rigging and tampering with the results in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Punjab following the defeat of Mian Nawaz Sharif from NA-15 (Mansehra) and several other stalwarts like Khawaja Saad Rafique, Sheikh Rohail Asghar and Javed Latif from the Punjab. “We are going to challenge the results before the ECP and the election tribunals soon,” said Azma Zahid Bukhari, the PML-N Punjab information secretary.

Pakistan Peoples Party is also complaining of rigging against its candidates in all four provinces. PPP’s Election Cell chairman Senator Taj Haider tells TNS, “Several of our candidates were defeated through rigging in the Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.”

He says hundreds of ballot papers, stamped on the PPP’s election symbol were found from garbage bins in Karachi. “There might be two scenarios: either the presiding officers threw them in the bin or someone else snatched the ballot papers and replaced the PPP votes with already stamped ballot papers and filled the ballot boxes.” He said that he had written a letter to the ECP requesting it to investigate the matter.

JUI-F chief Maulana Fazl-ur Rehman has rejected the results and announced a protest movement against the alleged rigging in front of the parliament.

Interestingly, top leaders of the PTI’s breakaway factions also lost the election. There was a general perception that the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party in the Punjab and PTI-Parliamentarians in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa would secure a number of seats and be instrumental in the formation of the governments at the federal and provincial levels with the establishment support. But the IPP supremo Jahangir Tareen and chairman of the PTI-P Pervaiz Khattak lost their electoral races. IPP president Aleem Khan and his close aide Aun Chaudhry comfortably won the elections from Lahore with PML-N’s support. Tareen has since announced that he is quitting politics and Khattak that he is taking a break.

Soon after the results became available, the PTI, the PML-N and the PPP stepped into another race to form the federal government. Some of the leaders who had been speaking against one another during the election campaign are now going to be allies in the government coalitions. The PPP has extended its support to the PML-N. The PTI has said that it does not want to share power with the PML-N or the PPP.

The elections were meant to bring political stability. However, the results appear to have increased the political instability and threaten to impact the economy and aggravate polarisation in the society.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. His X handle: @BukhariMubasher

A controversy by any other name