Pakistan is facing growing concerns about the integrity of its upcoming general elections scheduled for February 8. Analysts and political figures fear widespread manipulation, pointing to a crackdown by state authorities against the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its leader, Imran Khan. Critics argue that the rejection of PTI candidates’ nomination papers and the forced abandonment of the party by many leaders indicate a troubling level of interference.
The PTI has witnessed a significant exodus of its leaders, some going underground to avoid arrest, while others joining rival political parties. Multiple electoral nominees from the PTI, including Imran Khan, have seen their nomination papers rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
Historically, concerns about election manipulation in Pakistan are not new. Instances like the dismissal of the elected Pakistan People’s Party government in 1990 and the controversial 2018 elections have raised questions about the fairness and transparency of the electoral process. The military’s role in Pakistani politics has been a longstanding concern, with accusations of direct rule and meddling even when not in power.
In the current scenario, some analysts believe that the military has shifted its focus to support the return of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who came back to the country in November last year. Courts have swiftly dropped legal obstacles against his candidacy, raising suspicions of favouritism.
The run-up to the 2024 polls is described by some as fundamentally unfair, with allegations of “election engineering” rather than outright rigging. The PTI, despite facing challenges, has successfully popularized a narrative of victimhood, particularly after Imran Khan’s removal from the premiership in 2022.
Political analysts note that the political landscape is experiencing deeper shifts, with intensified contradictions in the Pakistani state leading to increased antagonism in society and institutions. As Pakistan approaches its 12th general elections, the environment is marked by allegations of manipulation, contested nominations, and a complex political landscape, raising questions about the fairness of the electoral process and the role of the military in shaping the political landscape. The resilience of political parties and their ability to navigate these challenges will undoubtedly shape the future trajectory of Pakistan’s democracy.