Islamabad: Pakistan will on Monday hold the 10th election in its chequered 60-year history, with the last polls that were generally accepted as free and fair held as far back as 1970.
The South Asian nation has been under military rule for more than half its existence since independence from Britain, meaning that elections have frequently been rigged, postponed or cancelled.
There were no elections for Pakistan’s first 15 years because the fledgling Islamic republic could not settle on a constitution.
Its first elections came in 1962, under military dictator General Ayub Khan. In those polls, and the next in 1965, parliaments were elected indirectly by members of local governments.
His successor, General Yahya Khan, held polls in 1970, described as the fairest the country has held so far. But in a bitter irony they triggered the country’s most devastating political crisis.
Separatist Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s Awami League party swept the vote in then East Pakistan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won a majority in West Pakistan.
In the wake of the crisis a war erupted between Pakistan and India, with the eastern wing splitting off to become an independent Bangladesh and Bhutto becoming prime minister of the smaller, unified Pakistan in 1971.
Bhutto held elections in 1977, but the results were marred by allegations of rigging, and a nine-party alliance launched a movement against his government.
General Zia ul Haq toppled Bhutto in a coup in July 1977 and promised to hold fresh polls within 90 days. They never happened. Zia hanged Bhutto two years later and got himself elected as president in a referendum.
He held party-less ballots in 1985, and continued to rule for more than 11 years until he was killed in a mysterious plane crash in August 1988.
Elections in November 1988 brought the PPP back to power, and Zulfiqar Bhutto’s daughter, Benazir Bhutto, became the Muslim world’s first woman prime minister.
Just 20 months later, Bhutto was sacked by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan over allegations of corruption, and Pakistanis went back to the polling booths in October 1990, when Bhutto’s rival Nawaz Sharif won a majority.
A power struggle erupted between Sharif and Ishaq Khan and both resigned under an army-brokered deal in 1993. Bhutto won polls held the same year, but was again dismissed on corruption charges in 1996.
Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League swept to power in elections in 1997, but he developed differences with then army chief General Pervez Musharraf. Bhutto fled Pakistan earlier in 1999 because of new graft charges.
The army toppled Sharif after he tried to sack Musharraf in a dramatic standoff in October 1999, when he refused to allow the army chief’s plane to land in Pakistan after a foreign visit.
Musharraf became chief executive and sent Sharif into exile in Saudi Arabia the following year.
In 2002, Musharraf held elections and a referendum on him becoming president, and handed power to a breakaway faction of Sharif’s party.
In 2007, Musharraf got himself re-elected as president by the outgoing parliament, but only after imposing a state of emergency and sacking the judiciary to overcome a legal challenge.
Bhutto and Sharif returned from exile to contest elections originally announced for January 8, 2008. Bhutto was assassinated on December 27, 2007 and the vote was pushed back until February 18, 2008.