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Imran Khan in 2016 Alamy Stock Photo

Uncertainty for Pakistan as indecisive election leans towards candidates loyal to Imran Khan

Independent candidates loyal to imprisoned former PM Imran Khan won a majority of seats but cannot form a government alone.

PAKISTAN IS FACING political uncertainty after a national election returned complicated results.

Dozens of constituency’s results are being challenged in court and rival parties are negotiating potential coalitions.

Independent candidates who are loyal to imprisoned former prime minister Imran Khan took a majority of the national assembly’s seats in the polls.

However, a government can only be formed in Pakistan by a recognised party or coalition of parties, which means the independents would need to band together with another group to take power. 

The army-backed Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz had hoped to secure a ruling majority in the election. 

Khan was arrested last year, accused of corruption, and later sentenced to three years in prison.

An appeals court suspended his sentence but he remained in prison over accusations of violating the country’s Official Secrets Act, and was sentenced to ten years in prison on those charges last month. 

Many members of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), navigated what the leader described as a “crackdown” that disrupted campaigning and ran instead as independents.

PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan insisted that “the people have decided in favour of Imran Khan” and called on party supporters to picket election offices where he said vote rigging had occurred. 

However, a coalition between the Pakistan Muslim League-Hawaz and the Pakistan People’s Party, who formed the last government after Khan was removed by a vote of no confidence in April 2022, appears to be the most feasible outcome.

Election manipulation

Allegations of vote-rigging and result manipulation abounded after authorities disabled Pakistan’s mobile phone network on the day of the election, citing security reasons.

Counting the votes lasted more than 24 hours.

Pakistan-based political analyst Rahim Shamsi said that the country potentially faces long legal proceedings, protests and violence.

“In the short-term, any coalition birthed through a highly controversial election in a highly charged political environment will find it challenging to enact unpopular reforms that Pakistan desperately needs,” Shamsi said to AFP.

Police fired tear gas yesterday to disperse PTI supporters after promising to come down hard on illegal gatherings.

Even without any findings of vote rigging, there are dozens of constituencies already that will need to run by-elections. Pakistan law allows candidates to run in multiple constituencies, so those who won in more than one place will need to choose one and the others will have to run another vote.

Party defections are also common. Two winning independents who said they were loyal to Khan before the election have now said they are joining the rival PML-N, and more are expected to follow.

Pakistan is deeply in debt and inflation is at a sky-high 30%, with the rupee losing nearly 50% of its value since 2021.

Additional reporting by AFP

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