Pakistan Elections

Pakistan, the world’s fifth most populous nation (241 million; 2/3rds below age of 30), will hold national elections on Feb 8 amid political & economic instability. 128 million voters will elect 266 members of 16th National Assembly. 5,121 candidates from 167 political parties are in fray (94% males). 60 seats are reserved for women & 10 for non-Muslims. Punjab has maximum 142 seats (+32 for women). Campaigning has ended. Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has defended Election Management System & ruled out hacking possibility.

The country is in an economic crisis, with inflation at 30%; Pak Rupee has lost 50% value against US$ in 2 years. Attacks from armed groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have increased. An attack on a police station in KP has killed 10 policemen. Tensions with three neighbouring states is high. There is dissatisfaction among minorities.

The US has issued a travel advisory for American citizens planning to visit Pakistan urging them to exercise caution in light of the upcoming general Pakistan elections. US citizens are advised to avoid areas around political rally sites and polling stations.

Former PM Imran Khan is in jail and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been barred from using its election symbol; its candidates will contest as independents. Major parties in fray are Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N) led by former PM Nawaz Sharif & Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by former foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. It is yet to be seen how the public reacts to Imran’s side-lining.

Pakistan’s Army plays an outsized role in its politics. Critics argue that the elections are being engineered to keep Imran Khan out of power & get a leader the military is comfortable with.

The society remains deeply polarised; many see pakistan elections as a referendum on the military’s involvement in politics, reports Al Jazeera. Going by reports, Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N is likely to win a majority due to the backing of the establishment (read Army). Many believe the establishment had helped Imran come to power after last elections.

For much of its history, Pakistan has been ruled by its powerful military. In 1971, the impoverished East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) declared independence & has made impressive economic progress since then. In elections in Jan 2024, Shaikh Hasina won a consecutive 4th term. India, the world’s largest democracy will head to elections in 2-3 months.

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