New Delhi: Hectic parleys have begun as Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) [PML-N] and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan’s Peoples Party (PPP) reached out to each other to form the next civilian government in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the US, UK, and European Union have expressed serious concern about irregularities during elections and demanded a thorough probe.
At the time of writing this report, the Election Commission of Pakistan announced the results of 253 out of 266 parliamentary seats. While Independents backed by Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won 92 seats, Sharif’s PML-N stood second with 71 seats, and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s PPP secured 54 seats, Dawn reported.
Elections were held for 266 seats of parliament, and in four provincial legislatures. Sixty seats are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims and will be allocated to parties in proportion to their share of directly elected seats. While the PTI-backed independents may be the largest bloc, they won’t get a share of the reserved seats which will be distributed between political parties.
Both Sharif and jailed former prime minister Imran Khan declared their victory amidst allegations of rigging, which have been fuelled by very slow counting of votes and inordinate delay in the declaration of results.
Speaking late on Friday night, as the polling results trickled in, Sharif announced that he had tasked his brother, former PM Shehbaz Sharif, to reach out to major parties such as PPP, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (Pakistan), and others, to form an alliance.
Citing sources, the Dawn reported that Shehbaz had already called on PPP’s Asif Ali Zardari, Faryal Talpur, and Bilawal Bhutto in Lahore late on Friday night. “The meeting was a kind of beginning of something big,” said a PPP source, indicating that they discussed the results of the polls and the post-election situation.
The PTI leader Imran Khan’s official X account posted an AI-generated video of the jailed leader that claimed the party had become the single largest political party at the Centre and two provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab.
In the message, Khan claimed that party had won “170 seats”, which is a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly. “I had complete faith that all of you would come out to vote. The massive turnout has surprised everyone. [The] London plan has failed because of your votes. [PML-N supremo] Nawaz Sharif has given [his] victory speech despite being behind in at least 30 constituencies [in NA],” he said.
Meanwhile, Independents backed by Khan’s PTI accused the election authorities of manipulating results and knocked on the doors of the judiciary.
The PTI chairman Gohar Ali Khan called on party workers to protest outside offices of Returning Offices where results were being “withheld and delayed” on Sunday. The results of around a dozen NA seats were yet to be announced nearly two days after the closing of polls on Thursday.
The President of Pakistan, Arif Alvi, who had been appointed during Imran Khan’s tenure as prime minister, posted on Twitter that Pakistan could have avoided the crisis stemming from the delay in election results if electronic voting machines (EVMs).
Remember ‘our’ long struggle for Electronic Voting Machines. EVM had paper ballots that could be counted separately by hand (like it is being done today) BUT it also had a simple electronic calculator/counter of each vote button pressed. Totals of every candidate would have been…
— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) February 10, 2024
Amid the fast-paced political developments, an anti-terrorism court (ATC) on Saturday granted bail to Khan in 12 cases linked to the May 9 attacks on military installations.
On the other hand, the United States, the UK and the European Union (EU) expressed concerns over the ongoing electoral process in Pakistan.
For its part, the US Department of State has said it is looking forward to “timely, complete results that reflect the will of the Pakistani people”. “We condemn electoral violence … and are concerned about allegations of interference in the electoral process. Claims of interference or fraud should be fully investigated,” a statement from the US said, adding that “claims of interference or fraud should be fully investigated”.
Millions of Pakistanis made their voices heard at the polls on February 8. We will work with the Pakistani government, regardless of political party, to advance our shared interests and strive to bolster democratic institutions and broaden political participation.
— Matthew Miller (@StateDeptSpox) February 9, 2024
In the same breath, it added, “The United States is prepared to work with the next Pakistani government, regardless of political party, to advance our shared interests. We join credible international and local election observers in their assessment that these elections included undue restrictions on freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.”
The United Kingdom has also voiced “serious concerns raised about the fairness and lack of inclusivity of the elections”. UK foreign secretary David Cameron, in a statement, said “not all parties” were able to formally contest the election and that “legal processes” were used to prevent some political leaders from participating. “The UK urges authorities in Pakistan to uphold fundamental human rights including free access to information, and the rule of law,” Cameron said.
The European Union in a statement said, “We regret the lack of a level playing field due to the inability of some political actors to contest the elections, restrictions to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression both online and offline, restrictions of access to the internet, as well as allegations of severe interference in the electoral process, including arrests of political activists.” It also called for a “timely and full investigation” into all reported election irregularities.
The Pakistani foreign office expressed surprise “negative tone of some of these statements, which neither take into account the complexity of the electoral process nor acknowledge the free and enthusiastic exercise of the right to vote by tens of millions of Pakistanis”.
The Pakistani electoral watchdog, Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) said that delays in the release of poll results, and suspension of internet and mobile services damaged reform efforts made through the Election Act. It estimated the turnout to be around 48%.
Further, FAFEN noted that there were restrictions in access to the Returning Officer, with at least 29% of the polling stations failing to display copies of Form 45 which is supposed to provide a detailed breakdown of the results.
Elections were held for 266 seats of parliament, and in four provincial legislatures. Sixty seats are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims and will be allocated to parties in proportion to their share of directly elected seats.
Amidst apprehension over the credibility of the results, Pakistan’s army chief Asim Munir extended congratulations to the nation on Saturday for the “successful conduct” of its national elections, emphasizing the necessity of “stable hands” to transcend the politics of “anarchy and polarisation.” As per a statement from ISPR, Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir expressed his hope that these elections would usher in political and economic stability, heralding an era of peace and prosperity.