Pakistan Election Thriller: Imran Khan Scores Symbolic 100, But Can He Win the Match?

The recent general elections in Pakistan yielded a hung parliament, with Imran Khan's PTI getting the most seats but falling short of a majority. This might result in political uncertainty and a weakened coalition government facing economic pressures and regional tensions.

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Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd), besides being a combat military veteran is perhaps the only freelance consultant in Industrial Security. He has audited large numbers of core strategic industries in both private and public sectors such as Aeronautics, Airports, Banks, Defence, DRDOs, Mints, Nuclear Energy, Oil, Power, Ports, Prasar Bharti (AIR & Doordarshan Kendras) Railways, Refineries, Space, Ship Building, Telecom & various vital Research Centres & Laboratories and conducted numerous Industrial Security & Disaster Management Training Programs, Seminars, Workshops & Exhibitions & interacted with numerous Ministries, Departments & NGOs and undertaken Industrial Security Audits, Reviews, Training & Advice in Disaster Management & handling of IEDs & Explosives. He has vast experience in the management of the Human Resources, Training & Development, Liaison, Fire Fighting, Logistics, Equipment & Material Management, Strategic Decision-Making Process, clearance of Maps & Aerial Photography (GIS), Explosives handling, Industrial Security & Disaster Management. He is physically, mentally and attitudinally sound having good communication skills to undertake Industrial Security Consultancy, IED handling, Coordination & Liaison Assignments to add to the productivity of the Organisation. He can also organise discreet customised intelligence gathering & surveillance operations on a turnkey basis for his clients. He is a prolific writer written numerous articles on industrial security, national and geostrategic security issues and 5 books- KUMAONI Nostalgia, Industrial and Infrastructure Security in 2 volumes, Soldier Mountaineer (biography of international mountaineer Col Narender Kumar 'Bull' and Reminiscing Battle of Rezang La. *Views are personal.

Like the Indian Parliament having two houses-Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the Pakistan National Assembly (Aiwān-e-Zairīñ) has two houses, namely, the Lower House called National Assembly or Qaumi Isamli and the Upper House called Senate or Aiwan-e-Bala. There are 336 seats in the National Assembly, out of which 266 seats are elected through direct national election. Seventy seats are reserved- 60 for women, 10 for non-Muslims and six seats are reserved for Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Therefore, any party or coalition winning 134 seats gains a simple majority in the National Assembly to form a government. An almost similar formula is applicable in provincial assemblies’ seats.

The recent general elections were held in Pakistan on 8 Feb 2024, and with prevailing uncertainty, announced suspected rigged results by the Army in connivance of the ECP (Election Commission of Pakistan) gave no clear-cut majority to any of the three major parties as under:

Jailed former cricketer /Prime Minister Imran Khan’s ‘The Pakistan-Tehreek-e-Insaf Party ‘(PTI)- 101 seats, Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s led ‘The Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N)- 75 seats, Former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari led the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) – with 54 seats.

Since the ECP did not allow PTI its Bat as a Party symbol, its candidates fought the election as independents- though really NOT independents being PTI candidates, and as per the constitution, within three days of election results, they have to join a political party, informing the ECP or band together BUT cannot form the government as independent elected candidates. Therefore, while they may join a smaller party/parties, some may be lured by the PML (N) or the PPP as none of the major three political parties have acquired a simple majority in the National Assembly elections.

While fervent activities are going on amongst three major political parties to form a coalition government, with so many cases against jailed PTI leader Imran Khan, other PTI leaders and both the judiciary and Pakistani Army discreetly ensuring PTI does not form the government favour Sharif’s PML (N) aligning with Bilawal Bhutto’s PPP and other splinter groups, notwithstanding latter’s demand to be the future Prime Minister of Pakistan. Some reports suggest PPP would support from outside without joining the coalition government. At the same time, Nawaz Sharif desires his brother and party president, Shehbaz Sharif, to form the national government and his daughter, Maryam Nawaz Safdar, to be Chief Minister (CM) of Punjab. However, there are widespread protests by large numbers of prominent PTI candidates over their election results. At the same time, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), the party of Mohajirs, i.e. Indian Muslims who opted for Pakistan, has invited the PTI-sponsored independent winners to join them in a collective effort to keep feudal and dynastic parties like PML-N and PPP kept at bay. Nothing is clear and certain as PML (N), PPP, and MQM-P are also negotiating to form a coalition government. The PPP’s ambitious Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s wild dream to be PM was shattered by winning 54 seats, giving way to one of the Sharif brothers being the PM bargaining for the impending National Assembly’s Speaker and future President of the country as speculated.
In the Punjab Provincial Assembly, the results showed 290 seats, while PML-N won 137 seats, PTI as independents won 112 seats, and PPP won 10 seats only while others went to smaller parties. For a simple majority, 149 wins are needed, so a coalition government can only be formed in the earlier PML-N stronghold Punjab province. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are 124 seats in the provincial assembly (69 general seats, 22 reserved for women and 33 reserved for minorities). PTI’s independent candidates have won a majority, but they need to align and merge with smaller parties to form the provincial government as independent winners cannot form a government without a party symbol, while in the Sindh provincial assembly with 168 seats (130 general, 29 for women and 9 for minorities and PPP is leading with 84 seats, MQM with 28 seats while independents supported by PTI have won 11 seats and PPP is likely to form the provincial government. In volatile Balochistan, no party has a majority, and the situation is fluid and obscure, where results in out of 51 seats set to election, the result of 41 seats indicate PPP getting 11 seats, PML (N) 9, JUI (F) 8 and independents five and BAP 4. Balochistan is the largest, richest in minerals, scarcely populated, poorest isolated and neglected province drifting towards separation from Pakistan. These results are speculative as ECP has not released official results as yet, and many independent candidates in the national assembly and provincial assemblies leading with wide margins were finally defeated due to alleged rigging under the diktat of the establishment, namely the Pak Army.

The expectation that Nawaz Sharif, favoured by the establishment (Pak Army) on return from self-exile from the UK, would meet common people’s aspirations and expectations to the contrary is trailing in the home turf of the Punjab Assembly and poor second with 75 seats in the National Assembly to PTI led independents 101 while the PPP is miserably 3rd with 54 seats. These trends reflect no surge towards PML (N) after homecoming or the PPP, restricted within Sindh province only.

While the flamboyant cricketer cum former jailed PM Imran Khan’s PTI on numerous charges was banned from fighting the election with Bat as a symbol, forcing its candidate’s pitch as independent whose performance is much better. Many speculate that many of his candidates leading in the National and provincial assemblies’ elections were made to lose by rigging not to let Imran Khan or the PTI form the national government, which suits General Asim Munir, the Chief of the Army Staff of the Pakistani Army, the most.

Relations of ‘The Mullah General’ with the PML (N) and the PTI

On 4 Nov 2022, then-Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif (younger brother of Nawaz Sharif) appointed General Asim Munir as the new army chief for a three-year term. Asif Munir is a highly religious orthodox Muslim who has memorised the Quran and was earlier chief of the military intelligence and subsequently headed the dreaded Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the notorious state within the state and Imran Khan removed him from his position as head of the ISI in 2019; politically, setting the two powerful men in opposition as enemies in the turbulent Pakistani politics where civilian national government, administration and even judiciary can never dare upset the military supremacy. The sour relations between Gen Munir and Imran have since been a topic of interest and speculation. After Imran’s deposing in April 2022, Imran Khan developed a firm stance against the Army as anti-establishment. However, he enjoyed the support of many military veterans like former ISI chief Zaheerul Islam and Ahmad Shuja Pasha, who played a key role in bringing in power. Also, younger generations overwhelmingly support him, but the establishment, with the connivance of judiciary and administration, has embroiled him in endless corruption and national security violation cases with jail punishments of varying years.

Meanwhile, General Munir is quite favourable to the Sharif brothers, hence PML (N) and inconsequent Bilawal Zardari Bhutoo and his PPP. Though contrary to peace and prosperity, the weak national coalition government and ones in provinces suit the military’s supremacy but not the economy, development, or diplomacy. However, in the present context, Imran Khan is the most popular politician in the country. To reassure a large number of Pakistanis and foreign journalists, General Bajwa reaffirmed that the Pakistan Army and its generals would no longer get involved in future national political affairs while he was retiring from office. However, this remained merely wishful thinking, and Imran Khan boldly accused the generals of being involved in his “resignation” earlier this year, subsequent to the vote of no confidence. Even though PTI has won the largest number of seats in the National Assembly, General Munir would ensure Imran, with his century, would not be able to form a government.

Charismatic Imran Khan, who had emerged with his anti-corruption drive and big appeal to the youth and middle class, is now embroiled in numerous alleged corruption cases along with his wife and family, and even his marriage was declared illegal. Attacks by his supporters on military installations distanced him from the Army’s support, and he is banned from appearing on national TV channels with the en masse arrest of PTI workers facing charges in military courts. The latest speculations indicate that PTI is joining other smaller parties to form the Punjab & Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments. 

Implications of Hung Assembly 

Hung assembly means political uncertainty and further division within Pakistan and the formation of a weaker coalition of national and provincial governments with heavy army hammers on their heads. Unlike the apolitical Indian Army, the Pakistani Army is a state within Pakistan. With repression on the swing, many of the youth and middle class did not vote in the general election, and Pakistani democracy appears to be a sham. Pakistan’s economy is in doll drums with a GDP of around 0.30 per cent and over 30 per cent inflation.

The country is at the mercy of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bail-out. Bangladesh, which was financially neglected poor East Pakistan before the 1971 liberation war, now has a better and stronger economy than Pakistan. Massive floods last year destroyed wheat crops, and the country became an importer of wheat from an exporter of wheat. Pakistan lost the support of the US and European Union and prestige amongst the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC). On the contrary, India’s relations with the Middle Eastern Arab countries are at high tide & PM Modi, on 14 Feb 2024, inaugurated UAE’s largest Hindu Temple. In recent times, Pakistan’s relations have been tense with Iran, Afghanistan and India. India has refused to negotiate till it ends cross-border terrorism. To divert attention from domestic chaos, cross-border terrorism possibly would increase against India. Neglected Baluchistan would drift towards seperation like East Pakistan dismembering Pakistan further. Pakistan’s overdependence on China, Kashmir, river water sharing disputes, proxy war, religious tensions, and unstable nuclear Pakistan all pose serious security threats to the region.


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