Pakistan is holding its general elections today to elect a new parliament and a new prime minister. The elections are taking place amid a surge of militant attacks, a deepening economic crisis, and a bitter political rivalry between the ruling party and the opposition led by the jailed former prime minister Imran Khan.
Security challenges and election violence
The security situation in Pakistan has deteriorated in the run-up to the elections, as several militant groups have carried out deadly attacks on candidates, party workers, and voters. The most recent attack occurred yesterday, when two bombs exploded at election offices in the southwestern province of Baluchistan, killing at least 30 people and injuring more than two dozen others. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack, which was the worst election-related violence in the country’s history.
The government has deployed tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces to ensure security at the polling stations, and has also suspended mobile phone service in some areas to prevent remote-controlled bombings. However, many voters still fear for their safety and may stay away from the polls.
Political divisions and allegations of foul play
The elections are also marked by deep political divisions and allegations of foul play by the opposition parties. The main contender against the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former cricket star and Islamist politician Imran Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April 2022 and is now serving a seven-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Khan has accused the government and the military of conspiring against him and his party, and has claimed that his candidates were denied a fair chance at campaigning.
Khan still commands a massive following among the urban youth and the religious conservatives, who see him as a champion of change and anti-corruption. However, it is unclear if his supporters will turn out in large numbers to vote for his party, or if they will be disillusioned by his imprisonment and the perceived rigging of the elections.
Economic woes and regional challenges
The next government of Pakistan will face huge challenges, both domestically and internationally. The country is facing an economic crisis, with a soaring inflation, a plunging currency, a widening trade deficit, and a looming debt crisis. The government will have to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or other sources, which may come with tough conditions and reforms.
The country is also facing regional challenges, as it shares borders with Afghanistan, China, India, and Iran, all of which have their own interests and conflicts. Pakistan will have to balance its relations with these countries, as well as with the United States, which has been pressuring Pakistan to crack down on the militant groups operating from its soil and to support the peace process in Afghanistan.
Electoral system and possible outcomes
Pakistan has a parliamentary system, where the voters elect 266 members of the National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, for a five-year term. Another 70 seats are reserved for women and minorities, who are nominated by the parties according to their proportional representation. The National Assembly then elects the prime minister, who heads the government.
There are 44 political parties contesting the elections, but the main contenders are the PML-N, the PTI, and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the late former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. The PML-N is expected to win the most seats, but may fall short of a simple majority, which would require it to form a coalition government with smaller parties or independents. The PTI is expected to come second, and may try to form an alliance with the PPP or other opposition parties to challenge the PML-N. The PPP is expected to come third, and may play the role of a kingmaker or an opposition leader.
The results of the elections are expected to be announced within a few days, but may be disputed by the losing parties, who may allege fraud and rigging. The elections are being monitored by local and international observers, who will assess the fairness and transparency of the process.