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Elections 2024: What to expect as polls coincide with economic, security crises?

After almost a year of waiting, people across the country are getting ready for the general elections on February 8. They believe that their votes will help change their lives, especially since record-high inflation and a weak job market are making things harder for many people.

The upcoming elections give voters yet another important chance to choose new lawmakers who can deal with the country’s urgent economic problems and come up with a plan to turn things around.

There are still worries, though, because no one knows what will happen in Pakistan after the vote or how the new leader will run things.

The big political parties didn’t know if the elections would happen on time or at all, so they started their campaigning very late. This is one reason why there wasn’t a lot of noise in Pakistan during the election.

Why were the elections pushed back?

The Constitution says that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must hold elections within 90 days of dissolving an assembly and within 60 days of the end of its term if it ends before its end date.

However, the announcement of the new census threw a wrench in the works. This is why the ECP chose to rediscover the constituencies and hold elections all over again—in January 2023.

When the case finally got to the Supreme Court, Sikander Sultan Raja, the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC), agreed with President Arif Alvi to hold the general elections on February 8.

Even though the ECP and the president told the Supreme Court that elections would happen on February 8, political parties and observers are still keeping their fingers crossed. This is understandable, since there is a lot of doubt and the government is taking too long to act on the issue.

A Senate resolution that wanted to put off the elections made things even less certain.

Let’s look at some of the most important things that could change the outcome of the election next week, when everyone is trying to figure out what to do.

Watch how many people vote.

The focus will now be on the turnout now that people are going to the polls.

Political experts who are closely following the situation say that the fact that one party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), isn’t getting a fair chance is one of the most important reasons to keep an eye on the turnout.

People said that the party’s effective use of social media helped get young people to vote in the 2018 election, but now it is facing a number of legal problems.

Its founder, Imran Khan, has been found guilty of bribery and cipher crimes and given a lengthy prison sentence.

After the violent protests on May 9, 2023, the government cracked down on the PTI, and many of its leaders have gone into hiding.

The most important thing is that the party lost its most famous election symbol, the cricket bat, which was a huge blow to its chances of winning.

With all of this in mind, it would be interesting to see if it makes PTI voters less fired up or not.

Not only that, but because the future was uncertain, many parties started their campaigns very late.

Another option is the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Many people think this party will become Prime Minister. They started their campaign on January 15 and released their platform a few days later, on January 27.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari unveiled his 10-point plan for the country’s well-being on December 27 to start his campaign for office. However, the final plan was released on January 27 along with the PML-N’s.

Besides this, Gallup polls showed that 57% of voters said the campaigning was less exciting than it was in 2018. In a different poll by the same group, 78% of people said that no political party had asked them to vote.

With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how voters feel about it and whether they decide to go to the polls in such large numbers or not.

Threats to security during the race

A person’s sense of safety is another thing that can affect how many people show up to vote and how open the election is. The country is getting ready for elections, but law and order have gotten worse, making it harder for candidates to run, especially in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Islamabad-based think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS) says that militant activities have skyrocketed 102% since the last month of 2023, with the first month of this year seeing the biggest jump.

According to the PICSS report, there were at least 93 terrorist attacks across the country in January 2024, which killed 90 people, hurt 135 others, and kidnapped 15 others.

Even though there were more attacks, the number of deaths was not as bad as it could have been. The number of deaths and injuries rose by 15% and 19%, respectively.

There were 41 civilians, 37 members of the security forces, and 12 militants among the people who were killed.

There were 81 civilians and 54 members of the security forces among the injured.

The report also said that attacks on election-related activities, such as attacks on candidates, have increased.

The PICSS counted 21 of these attacks in January, which killed 10 people and hurt 25. Two candidates, one from Mir Ali in North Waziristan and the other from Bajaur, took their own lives. Rehan Zeb Khan was a well-known youth leader and PTI local leader.

Several candidates almost got hurt in these attacks.

Tabulating the results

An important issue that came up during the 2018 elections was that ECP’s Result Transmission System (RTS) didn’t work, which caused the results to be late.

At the time, the ECP said that the failure was due to a “technical glitch.”

The “Election Management System” (EMS) is being used this time by the ECP. The electoral body hasn’t said much about the system, but on January 27, it said that it had tested it and found it to work well. During the test, however, the EMS did have trouble connecting.

In any case, political parties have been asking the ECP questions about how it sends, collects, and counts the poll results.

In a recent letter to the commission, the PPP voiced strong concerns about the introduction of the Election Management System (EMS), a brand-new electronic system for sending election results.

All eyes will be on the results after 5 p.m., when the votes will be counted, whether the EMS arrives or not.

The key to the PM House is independents

Both the PTI and the PPP have said that the PML-N is likely to win the election. On the other hand, the party has denied the charge.

A candidate for prime minister needs the support of 172 out of 342 Members of the National Assembly (MNAs).

According to a poll by the Institute for Public Opinion Research (IPOR), PML-N was in first place in Punjab, with PTI coming in a close second. Still, it’s clear that the next parliament will be a hung one.

Of course, the PTI is having trouble because all of its candidates are running as independents since the Supreme Court’s decision on January 13.

The party is still registered with the ECP as a political party, but it’s not clear yet if its candidates will be able to form a group in parliament if they win.

Not only that, but the verdict has made it easier for the party candidates to join other parties if they win. They are running as independents, so either the PML-N or the PPP can try to get them to join their side in order to win the PM House.

A lot will depend on the independents, as well as smaller parties like the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) led by Jahangir Tareen and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). These parties will help decide which party forms the federal government.

Reviving the economy

The economy of Pakistani voters has been getting worse because of high inflation and a falling currency.

Pakistan is also in a Standby Arrangement (SBA) with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for $3 billion right now. The caretaker government led by Anwar-ul-Haq Kakaar finished the first review and got the $700 million installment. However, the $1.1 billion that will be given out after the second review is still not available.

The IMF mission is expected to arrive in Pakistan after the elections. The new government’s first job will be to make sure the country stays on track.

Besides this, the new government will have to join another IMF program because of the country’s current financial situation. Whoever wins the election will have to make sure that the party can get the facility it needs to fulfill its promises and get Pakistan out of its current liquidity crisis.

The end

As elections happen at the same time as a worsening security situation and an economy that is falling apart, most voters want the next government to do one thing: stop the rising costs of food, fuel, electricity, medicine, and other necessities, making people’s lives better.

The country has been on the verge of default several times because of its falling foreign exchange reserves and sharp currency depreciation, which means that the economic recovery is tied to political stability.

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