Election 2024: Reaffirmation democratic journey

By: Qamar Bashir

Amid swirling rumors, concerns, and a charged atmosphere both domestically and internationally, Pakistan is set to conduct its highly contested and controversial 2024 elections amidst significant economic challenges including stagnant growth, acute balance of payment issues, hyperinflation, and high unemployment rates. This election is marked by an unprecedented increase in the active voter base, reaching the milestone of 128 million, over half the country’s population. This elevates Pakistan to the status of the world’s fifth-largest democracy. With an anticipated 80% voter turnout, the nation demonstrates a strong commitment to the democratic process reflecting the population’s strong commitment to the democratic process and their determination to influence their nation’s future.

FAFEN in its recent report noted that for the first time, there were more women registered to vote than men between two election periods of 2018-2024, showcasing significant progress in gender inclusivity in the electoral process marked by an increase in women’s voter registration by 27%, surpassing the growth in men’s registration, which was 17% during the same period. This has led to a substantial decrease in the gender gap in voter registration from 11.8% in 2018 to 7.7% in 2024.

Recognizing the potential of women voters in the upcoming elections, both PTI and PML(N) have issued a ‘record’ number of National Assembly tickets to women, which might further encourage female voter participation reflecting a broader movement towards gender inclusivity in Pakistani politics. However, female voter registration and participation in the election process will depend on various factors, including campaign strategies, voter mobilization efforts, and the addressing of socio-cultural barriers that have historically limited women’s political participation. As the elections approach, the focus on encouraging and facilitating women’s participation in the democratic process remains crucial for a fair and inclusive electoral outcome.

The elections 2024 being the fourth elections since the era of martial law under Pervez Musharraf starting with governments of PPP, PML(N), and PTI reflects the evolving political landscape amidst the pre-election phase, where the PTI faced significant challenges and allegations of unfair advantages to the PML(N), highlighting underlying challenges in Pakistan’s democratic processes which has been intermittently disrupted by martial laws posing setbacks to the democratic continuum.

International media, including the Council on Foreign Relations, Al Jazeera, The Diplomat, and DW, along with the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the European Union, have raised concerns about the 2024 elections in Pakistan, highlighting issues such as “election engineering,” disinformation, extensive media censorship, and state intervention in media coverage. These reports underscore the restrictive conditions facing political parties, particularly PTI, whose leadership is significantly constrained, impacting their ability to campaign freely. Allegations of an uneven playing field, exacerbated by the military’s significant political influence and the barring of key political figures like former Prime Minister Imran Khan, suggest a contentious electoral environment that may not be free or fair, disadvantageous to certain parties and undermining the democratic process.

Amid these apprehensions, the choice of political entities to engage rather than opt for boycotts, delays, or advocate for autocratic solutions underscores a pivotal shift towards deepening democratic norms indicating a resilient commitment to democratic principles amidst adversity. This collective resolve of Pakistan’s political factions, intellectual community, and citizens arguably emphasizes the importance of democratic integrity and continuity, effectively curtailing any attempts by undemocratic elements to impose their agenda, thereby safeguarding the democratic process and ensuring its resilience against potential disruptions.

PML(N) is running a vigorous campaign, primarily concentrated in central Punjab and Hazara Division allegedly supported by the state machinery while neglecting other key provinces like KP, Sindh, and Balochistan. The PML(N) campaign is well-organized and directed by Nawaz Sharif, with Maryam Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif providing strong support. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s ability to run an effective campaign is highly compromised due to the absence of its chairman and key leaders, coupled with the lack of its own election symbol. Moreover its public meetings have completely been blocked on the mainstream media, and as alternative it is struggling to leverage Social media that too is subjected to planned slow down as and when required. Meanwhile, the PPP campaign, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari with Asif Zardari making a positive impression, seems to be gaining traction.

In this election season, media outlets, both traditional and social, have been exceptionally active, providing extensive coverage of the election campaigns. Renowned anchorpersons took to the streets, engaging with everyday citizens to gauge their electoral preferences. While these interactions were not scientifically structured, they did unveil some regional inclinations. In Central Punjab, there seems to be a tilt towards PML(N), with PTI also receiving notable support. Sindh’s rural areas are predominantly leaning towards PPP, while urban centers show a preference for MQM. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP), a significant sympathy vote appears to favor PTI, reflecting the party’s strong foothold in the region. Meanwhile, Balochistan presents a more diverse picture, with no clear dominance by any national party, indicating a fragmented political landscape.

Unfortunately there is also a growing belief that mainstream parties are prioritizing forming provincial governments in the upcoming elections. This stems from the perception that provinces offer larger budgets, greater decision-making freedom with less scrutiny, and fewer financial obligations compared to the federal government. The center, conversely, faces stricter oversight, smaller budgets, and heavier debts, often relying on foreign loans to function, while spending primarily occurs in the provinces, seemingly without responsibility for loan repayment. Essentially, parties see provincial power as more lucrative and less accountable, raising concerns about national priorities and fiscal responsibility.

The crude findings are also supported by According to different surveys, reflecting a close race, showing leading parties PTI and PML-N neck-and-neck. Economic woes and security concerns loom large, while Khan’s disqualification adds uncertainty. Other parties like PPP hold regional strongholds.

Based on the discussion, survey reports, and media analysis, the PML-N, led by Nawaz Sharif, is likely to have a significant advantage in forming the government at the center due to its established political base and apparent mending of ties with the military, which plays a crucial role in Pakistan’s political landscape. The PTI, despite facing significant challenges including legal battles, the disqualification of its leader Imran Khan, and issues surrounding its election symbol, may still manage to retain some influence, particularly in provinces where it has a strong support base. In Punjab, the competition between PML-N and PTI is expected to be fierce, with both parties vying for dominance. The political maneuvering and alliances formed in the run-up to the elections could be key to determining the outcome in this crucial province.

PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, may continue to hold sway in its traditional stronghold of Sindh but could face challenges expanding its influence beyond this province due to the current political dynamics and its need to form crucial alliances in Punjab. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, PTI has historically had strong support, but the party’s current challenges might impact its performance in the upcoming elections. Balochistan’s political landscape is often more fragmented, with local parties and alliances playing significant roles. The situation in Balochistan may remain fluid, with various parties and independent candidates likely to influence the formation of the provincial government.

Amidst challenges, Pakistan’s move towards the 2024 elections epitomizes the nation’s resolve to sustain its democratic ethos. Despite the pre-election phase’s uneven playing field and significant political entities facing hurdles, the unanimous decision against election boycotts or delays reflects a collective dedication to democratic values. This commitment, coupled with a notable surge in voter registration highlighting gender inclusivity, underscores the importance of a transparent, fair electoral process for Pakistan’s democratic integrity and future stability. The forthcoming elections are a critical juncture, symbolizing not just a political transition but a reaffirmation of Pakistan’s democratic journey in the face of adversity.

Author is the Press Secretary to the President(Rtd)

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