The conduct of elections in Pakistan posed a significant challenge to the interim government of the country. Anwar-ul-Haq Kakar, the interim Prime Minister of Pakistan, is among the first individuals to undergo a training program at the military’s political academy; a project through which the military endeavors to train politicians completely loyal to itself and thereby exert full control over the national government. The threats from the Pakistani Taliban and the Baloch Liberation Army, which intensified with pre-election attacks, posed a daunting test for Mr. Kakar and ultimately challenged the military’s project. The failure of the interim government of Pakistan to hold secure and successful elections signifies a failure of the military’s project as well. Therefore, secure elections were a matter of prestige for both the military and the interim government of Pakistan. Under Kakar’s leadership, the interim government partially succeeded in that test, despite existing security challenges and attacks on candidates. Following the elections, the main challenge has emerged. The elections are marred by allegations of organized fraud, and the delay in announcing its results has fueled speculation about manipulation. Now, various parties across Pakistan are staging street protests, challenging the results of these elections.
Another challenge is the formation of the future government. According to the results announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan, no party has managed to secure a majority in the National Assembly to form a government. Therefore, parties have entered into negotiations to reach an understanding and form a coalition government. There are many questions ahead for the future of Pakistan, which is facing severe economic challenges and terrorism. The most pressing questions concern the acceptance of the election results and the formation of the future government.
Allegations of fraud and challenging the election results:
Based on the results announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan, no party has succeeded in winning a majority of seats. Independent candidates, most of whom are backed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party led by Imran Khan, have secured 101 seats out of a total of 336 seats. It is said that 93 of these candidates are members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party who, due to restrictions on the party, entered the electoral arena as independent candidates, but 8 others are truly independent. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz branch with 75 seats ranks second, and the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Bilawal Bhutto with 54 seats ranks third. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement led by Dr. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui ranks after the Pakistan Peoples Party, having won 17 seats. The remaining parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami, have not secured significant seats. This party has only won four seats, while the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party has not won any seats. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islam, himself suffered defeat against a candidate from Imran Khan’s party in the Dir Ismail Khan constituency. Similarly, Siraj-ul-Haq, the leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, also failed to secure a seat in the National Assembly of Pakistan, as did Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party.
In the provincial assemblies, the Pakistan Peoples Party has secured an absolute majority in Sindh, forming the local government. However, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party hold the majority and will lead the future local government. In Balochistan, the Pakistan Peoples Party has won the most seats but has not reached a majority. Therefore, a coalition government will be formed there. In the largest province of Pakistan, Punjab, independent candidates, most of whom are members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, have won an equal number of seats with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz branch. Likely, the future government in Punjab will also be a coalition. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, has stated that federal and local governments in Balochistan and Punjab will not be formed without his party’s leadership.
The results of the Pakistan elections, held on Thursday, February 8, were supposed to be announced on Thursday night, but they were announced with a three-day delay on Sunday night, while Pakistan’s roads were under the control of protesters, and calls for sustained protests have been made. Imran Khan, who is in jail, declared his party the winner of the elections and claimed that his party could form the government. Some leaders of this party also claim that they could have won between 150 to 170 seats, which would have enabled them to form a government alone; however, the Election Commission of Pakistan deliberately excluded candidates from this party. On the other hand, Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz branch, also declared his party the winner of these elections and announced his readiness to form the federal government. This party started negotiations for the formation of a coalition government with other parties two days ago. Allegations of fraud in the Pakistan elections are very serious. From powerful parties like the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf to local small parties like the Hazara Democratic Party, all claim fraud. The Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamaat Ulema-e-Islam parties are also protesting. Only traditional parties in Pakistan, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz branch and the Pakistan Peoples Party have not objected to the election results; however, in areas where these parties have received high votes, there are allegations of fraud and other parties are protesting. The result of the elections in Karachi, where the Pakistan Peoples Party has won an absolute majority of both provincial and federal constituencies, has been challenged by other parties, as have the elections in Punjab.
Many videos circulating on social media depict individuals attacking polling stations and breaking ballot boxes. In one video, ballot boxes from a polling center are dragged onto the road, and people’s votes are spilled out. Videos of ballot boxes being filled outside of polling stations have also been shared. One video shows a ballot booklet fully stamped for a particular candidate without the ballots being detached from the booklet. In another video, people are seen holding a police officer and showing that two of his fingers are inked, indicating that he has voted twice. These frauds have been committed by the people and voters themselves. On a more serious note, protests are directed towards the Election Commission, alleging that it deliberately reduced the votes of some candidates and increased those of their rivals. This claim gained more seriousness when the results and the number of votes for candidates in specific areas showed a staggering difference overnight. Shoaib Shahin, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party from Islamabad, who received 82,000 votes, was declared the winner of the elections, but the next day, the results changed, and a member of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz branch with 102,000 votes was declared the winner. In the provincial elections in Balochistan, two members of the Hazara Democratic Party were declared winners on Thursday night, but the next day, the results changed, and both were unsuccessful, leading the leaders of this party and its supporters to the streets. In another case, the initial result, which was announced, declared Rehana Emteyazdar, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, with 131,615 votes, against Khawaja Muhammad Asif, a former Defense Minister from the Pakistan Muslim League, with 82,615 votes, as the winner. The next day, the situation changed, and Rehana Emteyazdar’s votes decreased to just over 100,000, while Khawaja Muhammad Asif’s votes increased to over 118,000, declaring him the winner. However, one of the leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League yesterday rejected the claim of fraud as baseless. He said, “It is strange that when Rana Sanaullah, a member of the Muslim League and a former minister, is defeated, the elections are considered fair, but when a candidate from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf loses against the Muslim League leader, it is considered fraud!”
Gohar Ali Khan, one of the leaders of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, has called for nationwide protests in Pakistan. These protests also took place yesterday in various parts of Pakistan. The intensity was higher in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The Peshawar-Islamabad highway in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Chaman-Spin Boldak border in Balochistan were blocked by supporters of this party, disrupting trade and traffic. Other parties also held their protest rallies. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has continuously urged its supporters to participate in the protests, emphasizing that the protests should be peaceful. It is said that courts across Pakistan are filled with cases opened regarding election fraud. However, it does not seem that the interim government of Pakistan and the Election Commission of this country will prioritize these cases or that their investigation will make any significant difference in the election results. In such a situation, the formation of a coalition federal government remains the only option.
Who will be the Prime Minister?
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, which has won the most seats, has been barred from participating in the elections. For this reason, its members competed as independent candidates, each having their own separate electoral symbol. Even if the election results are accepted and the protests subside, the challenge of forming a government will remain unresolved. Due to the illegal declaration of this party and the fact that its members entered the electoral fray independently, they cannot form a government as a party. Therefore, they are forced to pursue building a coalition. Now, there are three potential options for the prime ministership of Pakistan.
Members of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, if they remain loyal to the party until the formation of the government, may potentially form a coalition with another party and establish the government due to their larger number of seats. In that case, cabinet seats will be divided between this party and its allied party. The participation of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf members in the future government increases the likelihood of Imran Khan being released from prison as a result of a political agreement and the party gaining its legal status. So far, leaders of the Tehreek-e-Insaf party have claimed to have obtained a majority of seats in the National Assembly and can form a government; a claim incompatible with the election results. The protests sparked by this party are also for the same reason that it seems the votes of its members have been manipulated. However, the loyalty of Tehreek-e-Insaf members to the party poses a challenge. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz faction is trying to attract some of the Tehreek-e-Insaf members who have won as independent candidates in the elections to their side to gain the majority and lead the future government. So far, one member of Tehreek-e-Insaf has officially joined the Nawaz Sharif party. This party, however, has claimed that several others are also expected to join them. If more defections do not occur among Tehreek-e-Insaf members, one option is for this party to form a government in alliance with one or more other parties and nominate a prime ministerial candidate. In that case, Imran Khan, who is in prison, cannot be eligible. Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the deputy of Tehreek-e-Insaf and former foreign minister, is also in prison. In this case, Gohar Ali Khan, who currently leads the Tehreek-e-Insaf party, has a chance for the prime ministership if not confronted with legal obstacles.
The second option is Nawaz Sharif or his brother Shehbaz Sharif. Nawaz Sharif, whose party has obtained the most seats in the National Assembly after Tehreek-e-Insaf, claims victory in these elections. He declared from the day after the elections that no party has won a majority and a coalition government must be formed. He, who does not recognize Imran Khan’s party officially, claims that his party has the most seats and should lead the future coalition government. In this regard, he assigned his brother Shehbaz Sharif to negotiate with other parties. It was reported that his first negotiation was with Asif Ali Zardari, the former president of Pakistan and one of the leaders of the People’s Party. However, later Bilawal Bhutto said that no such negotiation had taken place. Nevertheless, yesterday the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz party announced that they had reached an agreement with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to form the future government. Late last night, the People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League issued a joint statement announcing initial negotiations and agreements. So far, one member of Tehreek-e-Insaf and two other independent candidates who have been declared winners in the elections have also joined the Muslim League. This party stated on its X page yesterday that more than 35 independent candidates are interested in joining the Muslim League. This party still claims to have won a majority in the Punjab Provincial Assembly and formed the local government.
The third option is Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan People’s Party and the son of Asif Ali Zardari and Benazir Bhutto; a 35-year-old from a powerful family. The Pakistan People’s Party, which has secured 54 seats in the Pakistani National Assembly, is also aiming to be a partner in the future government. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of this party, has repeatedly stated in his interviews over the past three days that a federal government cannot be formed without the participation of the People’s Party. He holds similar views regarding the provincial governments of Balochistan and Punjab. These elections witnessed intense competition between supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. There are still many conflicts between these two parties. Imran Khan and his supporters believe that Nawaz Sharif and his party are supported by the military and the interim government of Pakistan to lead the future government. Due to the intense rivalry between these two parties, the likelihood of them forming a coalition together is very weak. Khan and his supporters will not side with the Nawaz Sharif party. In this case, the next option is the Pakistan People’s Party. This party is not only an option for the Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Muslim League-N, but last night a meeting was held between the leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muslim League-N at Bilawal Bhutto’s house in Lahore, and their joint statement announced some agreements. However, many details have not been disclosed in the joint statement of these two parties. The People’s Party has stated that it will refer the proposals of the Muslim League to its central executive committee. This party is trying to secure the prime ministerial seat in this game. A member of the leadership of this party proposed yesterday that if they cannot secure the prime ministerial seat for Bilawal Bhutto in the future coalition government, they should not participate in the government and act as an active opposition. The intense rivalry between the Tehreek-e-Insaf and the Muslim League-Nawaz presents an opportunity for Bilawal Bhutto, but because the Nawaz Sharif party has more seats than the People’s Party, the likelihood of Bilawal Bhutto becoming prime minister is weak. Among all these scenarios, the most probable one is the formation of a coalition government by the Muslim League and the People’s Party, which has been experienced before.