Former Cricket Star Wins Pakistan’s Election Despite Vote Rigging Allegations
Last week, cricket legend Imran Khan won Pakistan’s election with his PTI (Movement for Justice) party. Based on the official result, PTI won 115 seats out of 272 seats in the National Assembly. The ruling party Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, earned 61 seats. Sharif is now in jail for a corruption scandal that dragged down him and his family.
The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of late Pakistan’s former leader Benazir Bhutto, came third with 63 seats.
But Khan still needs other parties to form a coalition to be the next prime minister. In order to establish a majority government, a party needs to win 137 seats.
PTI supporters are largely young people plus celebrities and musicians, and they reveled in the victory of Khan, who led the Pakistan cricket team to win the World Cup in 1992 by defeating England in Australia. After retiring from cricket, Khan has been active in charitable activities. He turned to politics in 1996 by forming PTI.
In a televised speech, the former playboy and now philanthropist said confidently: “We were successful and we were given a mandate.”
But Opposition Parties, Observers Cast Doubt Over Pakistan Election Results
Speaking from jail, Sharif said that his victory “had been stolen.” Both PML-N and PPP accused Khan of using military support to win the ballot.
Both opposition parties claimed that election observers were ordered to stay away from polling booths when the vote counting process was underway or did not get official notification of the election’s result. Multiple parties rejected the results and called for a new election.
PPP questioned the delay in the announcement of the official election outcome. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) claimed the delay was due to some technical problems related to their transmission systems and denied accusations of wrongdoing in the vote counting process.
Despite criticizing Pakistan campaigns for intimidating political candidates, undermining the former ruling party and for media self-censorship, Michael Gahler, the leader of a European Union team that observed the balloting praised the poll’s result as “credible.”
According to the ECP, voter turnout dropped to 52 percent due to rumors of alleged military involvement in the polls. The Pakistani military deployed more than 350,000 personnel in 85,000 polling booths across the country. Aljazeera reported that 371,000 military personnel were deployed to guard the election process, the highest number of soldiers ever used in an election.
The military snubbed accusations of interference, calling it as “malicious propaganda,” as tweeted by the spokesman Gen. Asif Ghafoor.
The election was also marred by a suicide bombing incident in the province of Quetta that killed 31 people. “There was a deafening bang followed by a thick cloud of smoke and dust and so much crying from the wounded people,” a witness named Abdul Haleem told the Associated Press.
What Does Khan Need to Form a Coalition?
Khan will need the help of other parties to set up a government as his party fell short of the 157 seats required to form a majority administration. The PTI does not need the major opposition parties PML-N and PPP to cooperate, just several minor parties.
PML-N also refused to work together with PTI. “PML-N will maintain its role as a strong opposition,” said the party’s leader Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of Nawaz Sharif, as Dawn quoted.
From a political point of view, PTI’s victory reflected the party as the true nationalist party. Khan’s electoral success ended a political dynasty which dominated Pakistan’s political landscape. PTI also gained a significant number of the seats in Punjab, the country’s richest and largest province and a stronghold of Sharif’s party. PTI has 123 seats to PLM-N’s 127 seats. Whether the election can provide stability will depend on who can form and lead the Punjab provincial government.
What Does Khan Offer?
During the campaign, the 65-year-old flamboyant candidate promised to lower the poverty rate, fight corruption and open an investigation into cases of vote rigging. He also often voices an anti-U.S rhetoric and slams the Washington-backed war on terror. Khan has vowed to do his best to bring peace in Afghanistan.
India and the U.S. accuse Pakistan of harboring militant groups such as the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban which are fighting Afghan and U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Despite its populist rhetoric, analysts doubt that Khan will radically change the country’s foreign policy, which has been historically shaped by the military and only its rule for over five decades in 2008.