Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice, or PTI), led by former cricketer Imran Khan. The general election in Pakistan last week was expected to be historic: Only twice in Pakistan’s 71-year history have elections been held following the conclusion of a civilian government’s full five-year mandate. With 106 million registered voters, 47 million of whom were women, the scope was enormous. To assure safety, 370,000 soldiers were sent out. For the 272 seats in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, dozens of parties, and independent candidates were running.
However, there was a dark cloud over the election on Election Day. The two main parties fighting for power were the current Pakistan Muslim League—Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice, or PTI), led by former cricketer Imran Khan.
Nawaz Sharif, a three-time prime minister, was the most well-liked politician in the nation before he was disqualified on corruption-related allegations last year. However, he is currently incarcerated on those accusations. The PML-N is now led by his brother, Shehbaz Sharif, a former chief minister of Punjab.
Even though Nawaz had become politically influential in the middle of the 1980s as a military protégé, Pakistan’s all-powerful military detested him. In recent years, his attempts to befriend India and his attempts to expose Pakistan’s security services for supporting militant organizations have made him unpopular with the armed forces. He was removed from office and ultimately charged, although many believe the military had some impact.
The anti-corruption platform of Imran Khan’s party included a strong anti-corruption position, which he had been ranting against Sharif’s corruption for years. It is believed that he has recently benefited from and been supported by the military. In particular, there were claims of pre-election manipulation, which refers to underhanded schemes to get politicians from Sharif’s party to join Imran Khan’s party or declare their independence.
The events of Election Day
On Election Day, voting appeared to proceed smoothly. Despite a terrorist incident in Quetta that left over 30 people dead, voters turned out across the nation. Women cast their ballots in certain districts where they had not done so in 2013. The overall turnout was 52%, down from a high of 55% in 2013. It was a positive day.
A large number of opposition parties, including the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), as well as minor parties, however, started charging rigging shortly after voting ended and counting commenced. Several parties other than the PTI claimed there had been worrisome irregularities, including the ordering of polling agents from other parties to leave polling places while the votes were being counted. Vote counts were pouring in slowly or not at all. At the same time, Imran Khan began accumulating a huge victory and gaining a larger advantage than anticipated in terms of seats. Out of the 259 seats for which results have been published as of July 27, Imran Khan’s party has won 114, while the PML-N has only 63. The PPP won 43 seats, and an alliance of religious parties called the MMA won 11.
After the voting closed, what happened? The inefficiency of the Election Commission also contributes to the situation. Because of a software crash by the commission, vote tallies arrived slowly. The PML-N, which could be seen as a disgruntled loser, is not the only established politician from a variety of parties who is alleging anomalies, thus those charges must also be taken carefully. The preliminary report from the EU observation mission on Pakistan’s election was released on July 27, and it stated the following about the voting process: “Counting was occasionally challenging, with EU observers judging the counting process as positive in two-thirds of the observations.” Overall, it is arguably better for the PTI, but the outcome is muddled enough that both the PTI and opposition parties can use it.
A “corrupt” vote or a mandate?
So, does Imran Khan have a mandate, or was this a “dirty” election as some have claimed? There is no question that the absence of an equal playing field clouded the election in the run-up to it and will continue to do so. But when it comes to election results, it is difficult to contest Imran Khan’s actual popularity and win. The magnitude of this triumph is significant given that his party only entered the national political stage as a third party in 2013. With the backing of a few smaller parties or independent candidates, Imran Khan will have no trouble forming a government.
With post-poll rigging, it is a margin that is challenging to explain. At the same time, the anomalies must be looked into; interestingly, Imran Khan stated in his accommodative victory address that he would cooperate in any such probe.
Beyond the military’s support for him, Imran Khan’s victory is a story worth studying. It appears to reflect a changing Pakistan, with young and urban voters who support him reflecting a changing demographic. It reveals something about Pakistanis’ ambitions and the allure of a leader who made a clean government promise without any excesses for those in public power, a populist who claims to provide social services like health and education for everyone.
It shows opposition to the current quo and the dynastic parties in power, which Pakistanis believe have failed to advance their nation. The question of whether he will be able to keep his enormous promises is frequently met with skepticism. Long derided as politically immature, it is unclear whether he can now surround himself with those who will help him run the country.
Many in the West are alarmed by Imran Khan’s sovereign-nationalism and anti-American rhetoric. However, he adopted a more accommodative tone toward the United States in his victory address. According to him, Pakistan and America should have a “mutually advantageous can rhetoric. However, he adopted a more accommodative tone toward the United States in his victory address. According to him, Pakistan and America should have a “mutually advantageous” and “balanced” relationship rather than one in which Pakistan receives aid from the United States to support the United States in its controversial fight against terrorism. Pakistanis like his point of view. He also made a point of speaking in a conciliatory manner toward India. According to the evidence, he will likely be less concerned with China than the PML-N. Overall, he presented a more open foreign policy stance than his earlier, more inward-looking emphasis.
Most concerning is Imran Khan’s style of conservatism; in 2013–2014, he claimed that Pakistan should hold peace negotiations with the Pakistan Taliban, which had killed tens of thousands of Pakistanis, and that U.S. drone operations contributed to terrorism. He has recently allied himself with the extreme right and defended Pakistan’s backward blasphemy laws. It is not at all evident how he will deal with the country’s fundamental reasons for extremism, and he does not appear to comprehend them. One of the reasons Pakistan’s security agencies appear to have bet on him is that he is unlikely to challenge their backing of militant non-state organizations.
Given their shared right-wing populism, Imran Khan and Trump have been compared, but the parallels lack subtlety, as do claims that he is the “Taliban Khan.” Imran Khan is a lot of things—both good and bad. He has not yet had much experience in holding a national office in Pakistan. It will be interesting to see if he can follow through on his well-received victory speech. Although there are always political incentives in Pakistan to cater to the far-right, he will need to be constantly observed in terms of his connection with that group. Additionally, he may get into trouble sooner rather than later if he disagrees with the military over issues like India or civilian supremacy.