By Prarthana Mitra
On Wednesday, over 105 million Pakistanis will vote in the general election—the run-up to which was fraught with political controversy and indiscriminate violence.
After the dirtiest campaign in the country’s history, it is with great fear and expectations that the citizens will vote in a new Prime Minister, none of whom have ever completed their full five-year term at the centre.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) July 16, 2018
Who’s who and why it matters
Across the four provinces of Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, campaigning has reached a peak. On July 25, eligible voters will be casting their ballots twice, for the National Assembly (the lower house of the federal parliament) and their Provincial Assembly (which runs their provincial government). A single party will need to bag at least 137 of the 272 (directly elected) seats to be able to form the single majority government.
— VoterMaps (@VoterMaps) July 14, 2018
The contest will be a tight one between incumbents Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party led by Nawaz Sharif, and the primary opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) comprising right-wing religious factions and the left-wing Awami Workers Party are also expected to pick up seats across the country.
Expectations amid controversy
Earlier this month, absconding former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was convicted at an anti-corruption court. While spokespersons of PML-N have cried foul against the nation’s powerful military, the opposition PTI sees this as an opportunity to establish their credibility and has promised to eliminate corruption and address socioeconomic issues if they come to power.
With PML-N likely to lose constituencies especially in the Punjab province and several of their leaders defecting to other parties, PTI stands a strong chance of winning the elections.
— Geo English (@geonews_english) July 23, 2018
In the Sindh province, PPP is expected to hold on to their territory although Karachi with 21 seats is open for the first time in 30 years. In the northwest, the MMA religious alliance is pulling all stops to end PTI’s five-year run.
— Prof. Katharine Adeney (@KatAdeney) July 23, 2018
The newly launched Awami Workers Party in Balochistan, the country’s largest but least populated province, may secure a victory after their revolt against the PML-N earlier this year.
However, these predictions will come to nought in the event of a violent and unfair election, especially with allegations against the military for tipping the scales. The PML-N alleges that its candidates and supporters were coerced to switch sides by people identifying themselves as intelligence or military officers across the country. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) released a statement last week, saying, ”While it is critical that the polls are held as scheduled, there are now ample grounds to doubt their legitimacy – with alarming implications for Pakistan’s transition to an effective democracy.”
The contest comes two months after local Sikh community leader Charanjeet Singh was shot dead, and just within weeks of a bomb attack on campaigners in the provincial capital. On July 13, over 149 people were killed in an attack on a similar political rally in the Mastung district, bringing the election-related violence toll to 170.
With India’s nuclear-armed rival going to polls, the South Asian country also happens to be a key developing economy and one of the world’s largest Muslim-majority nations. Given Pakistan’s strategic relations with the west and strained ties with their immediate neighbours, the election will be under high-alert media watch all across the globe.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius
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