Behind Pakistan’s most rigged elections ever

August 3, 2018
Imran Khan votes in the July 25 elections, widely viewed as the most rigged in Pakistan's history.

In his election victory speech on July 26, Imran Khan gave a sober talk that ran contrary to the violent language he used throughout the election campaign, notes Farooq Tariq from Lahore.

Khan’s Pakistan Tereek-e-Insaf (PTI) “won” 116 seats in the National Assembly out of the 342 seats, of which 278 seats are contested directly on the First Past the Post (FPTP) system.

He is short of the 137 seats needed for the majority in the parliament. However, there are plenty of parliamentarians elected as “independents” who would either join his party or vote for him.

Vote rigging

Demonstrations in several cities took place against the rigging that occurred after voting ended. The majority of dozens candidates has been turned overnight into minority votes overnight by “unknown hands”.

These unknowns are actually known to everyone, but if you use their right name, you may disappear for this “crime”. Almost all the commercial media is under control by these “unknowns”.

The media is instructed on a daily basis by these “unknowns” — all this to get a favourable mandate for their loved one “the great Imran Khan”, who once captained the national team in Pakistan’s most popular sport of cricket. He won a World Cup with Pakistan in 1992.

Khan is a conservative politician who has developed, in recent years, a strong love for the army generals and he keeps a kind heart, too, for religious fanatics.

This was the most rigged elections in the history of Pakistan. From the start of the pre-poll period, all efforts were made so that Imran Khan could get a simple majority. Prior to the elections, there were consistent attacks on the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), the ruling party, by the judiciary in the name of accountability.

The PMLN has fallen out with the military and judicial establishment mainly on two issues. The most important was the supremacy of civilians over the military. The second was the relationship with India. PMLN wanted more trade with India and no war.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, the former prime minister and a right-wing politician, paid a heavy price for his insistence that as PM, he ruled Pakistan and not the army. He was ousted by the Supreme Court, disqualified for life and is now serving a ten years sentence along with his daughter at a Rawalpindi jail.

Powerful backing

When the elections were announced, the media portrayed Khan as the cleanest politician with a plan to curtail corruption. His main election slogans were “change” and “a new Pakistan”.

Billions of rupees were spent on advertising. The richest always sense the changing winds of power and accordingly change their political affiliations. Most of those who are called “electable” are simply politicians able to spend billions on elections and buy votes.

Khan’s PTI enjoyed an influx of these “electables”, who changed party from the PMLN to the PTI without a hint of shame.

When PMLN gave nominations to candidates, phone calls were made by these “unknowns” to those nominated, who were asked to reject the nominations at the 11th hour and contest the elections as independent. Those who refused were beaten up in their offices and homes.

The threats and intimidations worked. About 40 of those who were nominated by the PMLN announced they would run as independents.

During the election campaign, several PMLN nominees were arrested. Some were disqualified for life and sent to jail on the pretext of corruption. All these measures gave a general impression that the military and judicial establishment wanted Khan to win at any cost.

Khan has already created a sense among the youth that we need change and a corruption-free government. There was a euphoria among a large section of youth in Pakistan on the grounds that Khan is not corrupt.

The two banned outfits of religious fanatics were allowed to contest elections by the Election Commission. The strategy was that if the extreme right contested elections, it would reduce votes for the PLMN, who were favoured by these religious groups in the past. One religious group, Tehreek Labaik became the third largest party in terms of fielding candidates around Pakistan, after the PTI and PMLN.

More than 300,000 soldiers were deployed at all polling stations with a judicial power to military officers on the “request” of the Election Commission to ensure a complete security.

This was aided by religious terrorists, who carried out suicide attacks on public meetings during the election campaign that killed hundreds, including candidates. In one tragic incident, more than 150 were killed in Mastung district of Balochistan province.

Most of the human rights groups in Pakistan, including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), criticised this gross pre-poll rigging. They termed it as extraordinary measures to favour a certain political party.

Fraudulent results

On election day, the polling went smoothly and the military were everywhere. However, the rigging started after 10pm, four hours after counting got underway. Suddenly, the results in may constituencies were stopped. Then, there was a near-blackout of the counting, it remerged early in the morning, those winning elections at night time were losing and PTI candidates were always the winners.

The final results were delayed for more than 72 hours.

The results showed the PTI with 116 seats, the PMLN with 63 and the Pakistani People’s Party (PPP) with 43 seats at the national parliament. Under the young leadership of Bilawel Bhutto, the PPP improved from their previous devastating results of 28 seats. The PPP kept control of Sindh assembly, increasing their majority.

The two religious fanatic groups who contested got no national assembly seats. However one of them, Tehreek Labaik, won two Sindh assembly seats. They did not do badly. In almost every constituency, they got between 1-105 of the votes and in some, they won more than 20%. This is an alarming situation.

Left results

The left contested almost 50 national and provincial seats from all over Pakistan. One left candidate, Wazeer Ali from The Struggle group that is part of the Left Democratic Front, won a national assembly seat in the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The area is dominated by religious fanatics.

However, Wazeer won comfortable majority of 16,000 votes -- giving new hope for Pakistan’s left. Wazeer contested as an independent candidate. He is the leader of the Pashtun Tahafaz Movement, which organised this year mass public rallies across Pakistan calling for compensation for victims of “war on terror”.

In my home constituency of Toba Tek Singh, left-wing Awami Workers Party candidate Mohammed Zubair came on third with 4586 votes. He beat out the candidates of the religious fanatic parties and Pakistan People’s Party.

Almost all political parties except the PTI have termed this general election as the most rigged ever. They have rejected the results.

The PTI, which launched a three-year long movement against the rigging during 2013 elections, have termed this election as the most free and fair in history of Pakistan. It is the only party to say so.

The new government is still in the making. It is obvious that Imran Khan will become the new prime minister.

This new government will be a weak and face a severe economic crisis. The PTI’s designated finance minister has already hinted at turning to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new loan.

One of the main issues that the PTI campaigned was the huge foreign loans obtained during the PMLN’s five years in office from China. Now they have no shame to say, even before taking power, that they have to turn to the IMF.

The government will try to improve the tax base in the initial period. This would bring them into contradiction with the strong traders’ lobby who have no habit of paying taxes.

Khan has hinted to wishing to have friendly relationship with India. This will not be done. Without clear support from the military heads military, it is out of question that there will be improved relationship between Pakistan and India.

Religious fundamentalism will grow in the next period as Khan has already pledged to “negotiate” with the Taliban. He has always had a soft attitude towards religious fanatics. He has supported some known Madarasas (religious fundamentalist schools) associated with Taliban with state subsidies while he controlled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa during 2013-18.

Opposition parties have announced agitation against the election results, and demanded fresh elections. However, they might not succeed in launching a successful agitation.

Whatever happens, there are interesting times ahead.

[Farooq Tariq is a spokesperson for the Awami Workers Party.]

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