Pakistan elections 2024: Pakistan is going to polls on Thursday (February 8) amid concerns over a protracted economic crisis, threats of violence from militant outfits and a military-backed crackdown on jailed cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan as well as his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party. With Imran virtually removed from polls, the election is expected to witness a heated contest between three-time former PM Nawaz Sharif and Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
According to the data released by the Pakistan Election Commission, at least 44 political parties are vying for a share of the 266 seats that are up for grabs in the National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, with an additional 70 seats reserved for women and minorities.
A large number of foreign journalists and observers have arrived in Pakistan to monitor and cover the election exercise. The elections are set to be held on February 8 and polling would start at 8:00 am and would continue non-stop until 5:00 pm. Elaborate security measures have been taken, including the deployment of regular army troops, to maintain peace, given the deteriorating law and order situation in several provinces, particularly Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.
The campaigning would end at midnight between February 6 and 7, meaning that candidates can only use closed-door meetings and face-to-face contact with the voters. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced that it had delivered more than 260 million ballot papers across the country despite time constraints and weather-related challenges. Amidst all of this, it is important to know how the upcoming elections in Pakistan will be different from the Lok Sabha elections in India.
Pakistan's simultaneous elections
The future of the two neighbouring countries will be put up to new tests in 2024 as India's Lok Sabha elections will also take place later this year. However, unlike Pakistan, India's parliamentary elections are held separately from the Assembly elections in states, barring some that coincide around the same time. For example, five states - Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana - held their Assembly elections in December last year.
In Pakistan, the National Assembly elections happen at the same time as the Provincial Assembly elections. The White ballot boxes in the elections are for National Assembly votes while the green boxes are for the votes to be considered in the provincial assemblies. This effectively means that Pakistan's Prime Minister and the provincial Chief Ministers are elected at the same time.
The use of electronic voting machines
However, while Pakistan still relies on ballot papers which have to be stamped and folded for the vote counting, India uses election voting machines (EVMs). India has been using the EVM system since the late 1990s, as the ballot paper method was criticised for fraudulent voting and booth capturing. This is probably one of the reasons why instances of booth capturing are quite frequent in Pakistan.
Imran, during his tenure as premier, advocated for the use of EVMs in future elections in Pakistan. However, his proposal to introduce EVMs was vociferously opposed by opposition parties in the National Assembly. Experts say that fraudulent voting in Pakistan is likely to take place even this year.
Election results announced on polling day
It is interesting to note that unlike India, which provides a breathing period between the polling day and the day of results, Pakistan's election results are announced on the same day when the elections are held, despite a voting population of 128 million people. Voters cast their ballots for two legislators to represent their constituency - one federally and the other provincially.
There are 5,121 candidates contesting for the federal legislature and 12,695 for the provinces. Despite this, the counting of votes begins within an hour after polling concludes. This happens mainly because officials manually count the votes at the polling booth after a vote is cast. In India, the ballot boxes are sealed and taken to district headquarters after polling concludes, which explains the time.
How many seats are in Pakistan?
Earlier, the Pakistan National Assembly had 342 seats-- 272 of which were directly elected, 60 were reserved for women, and 10 for religious minorities. After fresh delimitation, the National Assembly (NA) would consist of 336 seats, including 266 general seats, 60 seats reserved for women, and 10 for non-Muslims, a decrease of six seats overall.
This is quite lower compared to India's 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, due to being a smaller country with less population. The Lower House has 545 seats, out of which elections will be conducted by the Election Commission to fill 543 seats, as the remaining two seats are filled by representatives of the Anglo-Indian Community. At the end of the elections, the Prime Minister of India is selected through the confidence of the majority of the Lok Sabha members.
In Pakistan, victorious candidates become members of the National Assembly. After it is constituted, the National Assembly holds a parliamentary vote to select a leader of the house, who becomes the prime minister. A successful candidate must show a simple majority in the house by garnering the support of more than 169 members. A similar process is followed at the provincial level to elect the chief minister.
Who are the main players of the elections?
The triangular contest involves the Pakistan Muslims League-Nawaz (PML-N), the PPP and the PTI of imprisoned Imran Khan. Due to the absence of former prime minister Khan, who is in jail after being convicted of corruption charges, the PTI’s fate is difficult to gauge at this point but it may still stage an upset.
Nawaz has been the Prime Minister for three terms, yet he never managed to complete a tenure as he was ousted each time, once by the military, once by the Supreme Court, and once by the president. In what can be considered a deja vu situation, Imran Khan rose to prominence and became PM in 2018 while Nawaz was convicted and imprisoned in Pakistan before leaving for a self-imposed exile.
Despite the years of controversies, he enjoys immense popularity and musters thousands of supporters at party rallies. He has a clear path to a fourth term in office after courts overturned his convictions and prison sentences after his return to the country last October and is being considered a frontrunner in the upcoming race.
Apart from Pakistan Muslims League-Nawaz (PML-N), the PPP and PTI, several smaller parties with sizeable vote banks, including the Mutahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Fazl, the Awami National Party, the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam, the Balochistan National Party are also significant players.
Deteriorating law and order
Meanwhile, 20,985 polling stations in Pakistan have been declared sensitive and 16,766 have been declared most sensitive, according to caretaker interior minister Gohar Ejaz. More than 80 per cent of polling centres in Balochistan have been declared sensitive as the province is prone to terrorist attacks and pre-poll violence.
With just a week left for the elections, the country is facing a rising threat of attacks by militant outfits, especially in the two provinces bordering Afghanistan. Pakistan is reeling from back-to-back incidents of violence which resulted in multiple deaths, especially at political parties’ rallies in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, which are generally the most affected by the menace of terrorism.
A bomb blast was reported near Pakistan's Election Commission on Friday. Several police stations and deputy commissioners’ offices were targeted in the attacks in which six people, including a police officer and a jail warden, were injured. Some independent candidates have been killed, most recently Rehan Zaib Khan, affiliated with PTI, who was shot dead in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last week.