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HomeExpertsUnveiling the Shadows: A Chronicle of Pakistan's Electoral Controversies

Unveiling the Shadows: A Chronicle of Pakistan’s Electoral Controversies

The relationship between Pakistan and democracy has always been difficult. To date, Pakistan has held 12 general elections in its history. The first general elections were not held until 23 years after independence. Theoretically, this democratic activity was expected to bring representatives chosen by the masses to office and then to put the country back on track. However, after a dozen elections, this expectation has not freed the country from the diseases that affect it. On the contrary, it led to more strife between parties.

One of the biggest reasons for this strife is that the system established in Pakistan is prone to being ‘rigged and manipulated’ in favor of suitable politicians and against the undesirables. There are known to be 5 elections in Pakistan’s history that are dirty and far from democracy, in terms of their results. This was clearly demonstrated in four elections held during the ten-year period between 1988-1997.

Non-Partisan 1985 Elections The 1985 elections should have been held at the time when General Zia-ul-Haq made a military coup in 1977 and promised that general elections would be held within 90 days.

After 8 years passed over this 90-day promise, the elections took place under highly unusual conditions that had never been seen before and have not been experienced since.

The 1985 elections, called ‘non-partisan’ elections, were unique in terms of not allowing any political party of the time to nominate candidates, thanks to an amendment made to the 1973 Constitution. Only Imran Khan’s party PTI was blocked in the elections held yesterday. The 1985 elections were elections that upset the parliamentary democracy, the parties, the administration, and harmed the election system. Even now, due to this law, independent candidates are required to join political parties after the elections, a practice that remains from that period.

The Father of Frauds: 1990 Elections The groundwork for the manipulation of the 1990 elections was laid before the 1988 elections, with the creation of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI), an alliance of 9 parties, by retired General Hamid Gul, then chief of Military Intelligence (ISI), solely to oppose Benazir Bhutto. IJI was established overnight in 1988 to block Bhutto’s victory. The 9 parties combined their forces in the blink of an eye.

In 2012, more than twenty years later, the Supreme Court decided there was sufficient evidence to prove the 1990 elections were indeed rigged. Through a major bank’s general manager, 140 million rupees from the public treasury were distributed among opposition politicians to prevent PPP’s victory. This is the only case where the Supreme Court declared after years of trials that the 1990 elections were indeed rigged. It is the only election proven to be fraudulent.

Controlled Election: 1997 Secret arms of the state concerned about Benazir Bhutto both tried to block her popularity and helped Nawaz Sharif to the prime minister’s seat. However, after Sharif took office, he entered into a power struggle with people preferred by the civil wing of the army, even if not directly with the army ranks. Sharif’s secret negotiations with the army surfaced with a landslide victory, winning 137 of the 217 National Assembly seats in 1997, nearly doubling his party’s seat count from 73 in the previous elections. However, more surprising than Sharif’s rapid rise was the decrease in Bhutto’s seat count. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which won 89 seats in 1993, could only win 18 seats four years later, experiencing nearly an 80% drop.

The assassination of Benazir Bhutto’s brother Murtaza Bhutto a few months before the elections and corruption allegations against her husband Asif Ali Zardari were expected to damage PPP’s popularity to some extent. However, this was not as significant as it appeared. This was possible thanks to the pressures following the dismissal of the previous Bhutto government, along with the arrest of Zardari and party supporters.

The elected government was sent away at the end of 1996. The entire election campaign was built on the narrative that Benazir’s husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was ‘Mr. 10 Percent’. A pressure campaign was launched against PPP, resulting in Nawaz Sharif securing an overwhelming majority in parliament.

The General’s Election Pakistan has a long history of the state’s involvement in political matters and managing affairs from behind the scenes. This materialized when Pervez Musharraf, who was both the army chief and the president at the same time, decided to go to elections in 2002.

The party that won the 2002 elections, PML-Q, was formed less than three months before the election day. Although the party itself was newly established, the politicians within it were experienced and had been selected from two established parties.

The 2002 elections ended a period during the 1990s known as the two-party system, where PPP and PML-N competed for the prime minister’s seat. A new strategy emerged in the new era, where traditional major parties (PPP, PML-N) were sidelined, top leaders were exiled, and the rest were used to prepare the King’s party (PML-Q).

Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Musharraf, as president, issued the 2002 Political Parties Ordinance, which specifically barred PPP and PML-N by introducing tailor-made bans. The executive order declared that a competing party’s president must be present in Pakistan and not convicted.

The pre-election maneuvers were so finely tuned that nothing exaggerated had to be done on voting day. Every unit of the state was organized. There were general elections in Pakistan, and then there was the General’s election; this was the latter.

The Most Unfair: 2018 Elections The basis for the claims that the 2018 elections would be manipulated was laid a year earlier, with the ousting of the then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif by the Supreme Court on corruption charges. Many commentators highlighted these elections as the most unfair.

In the months before the elections, there was significant censorship of the media, and many ‘elected’ individuals either left PML-N or were allegedly ordered to join PTI by those ensuring order. After the elections, parties that were strong in some regions supported PTI. The MQM-P leader openly stated that his party was forced to join the PTI government. Pervez Elahi, who had switched from another party to PTI, even spoke of a play by hidden hands.

A Pakistani journalist reported that political leaders were pressured to leave their parties and join Imran Khan, with some candidates being transported by private jets, kidnapped, and held captive until they agreed to join PTI. The 2018 elections reached a peak in the state’s overt interference in the election process.

The Peak of Manipulation; 2024 Elections Almost all elections in Pakistan have been manipulated. However, the 2024 elections surpassed even 2018. Not only the election frauds mentioned above but also the recent events in the country have made reading and understanding the elections seriously impossible. It’s not just about the conviction of Imran Khan, but also the entire process of tarnishing his party, PTI, which helped it come to power in 2018, and weakening its election prospects.

Contrary to political commentators who frequently appear on Pakistan’s 24/7 news channels, PTI-supported candidates are leading the election results list 24 hours after the end of the voting process yesterday. PML-N leader, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, expressed his desire to form a coalition government in his early victory speech, and this strategy will be determined by MPs who are independently advancing to parliament on behalf of Imran Khan’s party PTI, which is in prison.

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YÜKSEL DURGUT is a journalist with a primary focus on global politics and foreign affairs. He serves as the Foreign Relations Director of the International Journalists Association e.V. and holds the position of Editor-in-Chief at Journalist Post.


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