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Decoding Pakistan’s Pre-Election Landscape
7 February from 15:00 - 16:30
Asia in Review event series on elections in 2024
Online panel discussion
Decoding Pakistan’s Pre-Election Landscape
7 February 2024, 3 – 4:30 p.m. (GMT+7)
online via Zoom video teleconferencing
After much delay, Pakistanis are set to vote on February 8 in a civilian parliament for the third time in a row – a first for a state where none of the 29 prime ministers since independence has completed a full five-year term. While no election in the country’s history has been without its controversies, the forthcoming polls seem to have assumed greater importance for the country than most, coming as they do after a long period of political instability.
However, there is a mounting perception of an imbalanced playing field, which has been underscored by the downfall of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who will not be on this year’s ballot due to his incarceration, a situation that he and his supporters vehemently denounce as “politically motivated” and “a conspiracy.”
Initially hailed as a harbinger of change in 2018, Khan’s removal from office via a no-confidence vote in April 2022 has been followed by a series of tumultuous events, including an assassination attempt, numerous legal charges, and imprisonment. Furthermore, many of the leaders of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are behind bars or have defected, its candidates are having to stand as independents and others are on the run. Adding to PTI’s woes, the party was also stripped of its cricket bat symbol, significantly hampering its electoral prospects, particularly among an electorate with up to 40 percent illiteracy.
The hurdles faced by Khan and the PTI stand in stark contrast to the fortunes of Nawaz Sharif, a three-times former Prime Minister, who returned to Pakistan in October 2023, ending a four-year self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom. Since his return – just in time for the 2024 election – he has been cleared of all charges, a lifetime ban on running for office deemed unconstitutional. Many observers speculate that the support he garnered from the military establishment and the judiciary, after a fallout with Khan, has paved the way for his potential fourth term as prime minister.
Meanwhile, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), could end up a kingmaker in a governing alliance. The son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto – assassinated in 2007 – and former president Asif Ali Zardari, served as foreign minister during the coalition government which followed Imran Khan’s ousting. Now, he and his party have produced a manifesto making a series of expensive pledges, like doubling wages, claiming the budget could be found through government cuts and subsidies for the wealthy.
Yet, regardless of who emerges as the victor, the challenges facing the South Asian nation remain formidable:
Pakistan grapples with an overwhelming USD 140 billion external debt and narrowly dodged default with a USD 3 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) stand-by arrangement in June, adding to a long history of IMF bailouts. Economic woes are exacerbated by job scarcity and soaring inflation, prompting outward migration. Meanwhile, relentless rains in 2022 flooded a third of the country, causing significant loss of life, injuries, and displacing millions, with reconstruction costs exceeding USD 30 billion.
Internationally, Pakistan finds itself in a complex geopolitical position, situated between China and the United States, which significantly influences its foreign policy and international relations. While Islamabad and Beijing have maintained a longstanding partnership, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the USD 62 billion flagship project within Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, has soured relations at times. Initially hailed as transformative, numerous CPEC projects remain incomplete, leading to Chinese frustration due to escalating terrorist attacks, impacting Chinese investments and Pakistan’s security image.
Beyond this, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is responsible for high-casualty attacks, while officials have struggled to curb cross-border attacks, with Afghan Taliban officials denying TTP’s presence in Afghanistan. Furthermore, mass deportations were announced in October, affecting Afghan refugees who have sought refuge in Pakistan over the years, with nearly half a million undocumented Afghans leaving since December.
The country approaches a critical juncture, the decisions made by its next leadership will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences not only for the nation but also for the region and the world at large. Thus, the upcoming webinar on “Decoding Pakistan’s Pre-Election Landscape” promises to be a thought-provoking and timely discussion on the complex political landscape and evolving geopolitical dynamics in Pakistan.