Mint Explainer: What’s next for Pakistan after its contentious election?

Supporters of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), protest outside the provincial election commission office in Karachi on 11 February. Photo: Reuters
Supporters of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), protest outside the provincial election commission office in Karachi on 11 February. Photo: Reuters

Summary

  • While independent candidates backed by Imran Khan’s PTI won more seats than other parties, analysts speculate that Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP may form a coalition government.

The situation in Pakistan is tense after the conclusion of a controversial election. While independent candidates backed by Imran Khan’s PTI won more seats than other parties, analysts speculate that Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N and Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP may form a coalition government. 

With confrontation and political instability looming, Mint takes a closer look at the election and its aftermath.

What is the state of play?

At the end of vote-counting, independent candidates backed by Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) won 101 seats, followed by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) with 75 seats, and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) with 54 seats. Seats reserved for minorities will also be distributed among the parties. However, these numbers are heavily contested, given widespread suspicions of election rigging.

As vote-counting began, independents backed by the PTI surged ahead of their opponents. The final results, which came after delays from the Election Commission, sparked suspicion of voter fraud and election rigging, and PTI supporters launched protests. Observers doubt the fairness of the elections, given that Pakistan’s powerful military establishment has had its thumb on the scales.

What happens now?

According to reports in the Pakistani media, the PML-N and the PPP are in talks to form a coalition government. The two parties may also induce independents backed by the PTI to join their grouping. 

For its part, the PTI is trying to merge with a smaller party and thus receive some reserved seats that are allocated proportionally to political parties. With the military opposing a return to power for Khan, a PTI victory appears difficult. Media reports in Pakistan say the homes of PTI-backed independents are being raided by the police in an effort to put pressure on them.

What’s next for Pakistan?

Observers both within and outside Pakistan worry that the formation of weak coalition governments will hamper the structural reforms needed to reboot the country’s economy. The result is also thought to be likely to exacerbate political instability in Pakistan.

The electorate handed PTI-backed candidates crucial victories despite a persistent effort by Pakistan’s military and political establishment to cut the party down to size. This points to the party’s strong grassroots support and Imran Khan’s personal popularity. An attempt to forcibly keep his party out of power could further exacerbate popular discontent.

How will India respond?

Thus far, India has said little about the unfolding drama. This contrasts with countries such as the UK, which expressed concern about reports of unfairness in the election. Political unrest and economic crises are likely to continue in Pakistan. Over the past three years, this has forced the country’s establishment to maintain an unstable peace with India at the Line of Control. 

As Pakistan’s perennial domestic troubles play out once again, New Delhi may simply be interested in maintaining stability on its frontier.

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