Rashid Husain Syed is a Toronto-based political and energy journalist and analyst.
Promising a corruption-free Pakistan, the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is poised to take over the reins of the world’s seventh declared nuclear power and the fifth-most populous country, located in a strategically important, yet unstable, region.
Mr. Khan’s anti-corruption crusade appears to have resonated with the 20 million young voters added to the electoral lists and likely contributed to his success. With the PTI close to gaining a simple majority in the next parliament, Mr. Khan is set to lead a coalition government in Islamabad. But the party will likely still need partners to cross the required magic number in the National Assembly.
Elections in Pakistan have rarely been controversy-free and Wednesday’s have raised instant question marks. Shehbaz Sharif, the President of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in the absence of jailed party leader Nawaz Sharif, has outrightly rejected the results. Other political parties have also joined the chorus.
Delay in election results and the non-delivery of the officially attested and signed results of each polling station to the agents of the candidates have generated serious questions about the fairness of the very process. A number of candidates are complaining their polling agents were asked to leave the room during vote counting. Legally, these agents were supposed to oversee the entire counting process and then get an officially attested result sheet from the concerned presiding officer.
However, early on Thursday, an official at the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) rejected the accusations, insisting the final results were delayed “only” because of a technical glitch. “There’s no conspiracy nor any pressure in delay of the results. The delay was caused due to the collapse of the Result Transmission System [RTS],” ECP secretary Babar Yaqoob emphasized.
There is very likely some truth in that: A few days before the election, a number of returning officers from Punjab had already predicted “possible failure” of the voting system on election day, as “anomalies” were observed in the system during testing, The Express Tribune had reported. The Android-based RTS was to be used for the first time in Pakistan to transmit results to the returning officers and to the ECP in real time. The system collapsed as thousands of results were fed into it, leading to a considerable delay in transmitting them to the central office.
The delay in transmission provided the losing parties with the perfect weapon to cast doubts on the credibility of the entire exercise. Already, the electoral process was plagued by allegations that the “unseen hands” of the establishment were trying to tilt the balance in Mr. Khan’s favour. With such accusations continuing o make the rounds, it could result in political instability as Mr. Khan seeks coalition partners in parliament.
To form a coalition, Mr. Khan will not likely turn to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) of Asif Ali Zardari, as some were expecting. While campaigning, Mr. Khan had vowed to sit in opposition rather than making a coalition with Mr. Zardari and his party, which the PTI leader considers to be corrupt.
During the campaign, Mr. Khan’s real target was the PML-N of the jailed ex-prime minister Mr. Sharif. The PML-N enjoyed considerable popularity, especially in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province. How would Punjab vote and would it stay staunchly behind Mr. Sharif and his PML-N? These remained the key questions throughout the electoral process.
Mr. Khan appears to have gained the upper hand in Punjab, too. While the PML-N currently has the upper hand, the gap with the PTI is slim. This provides the PTI with an opportunity to form a government in Punjab, too. A provincial government in Punjab is regarded by analysts as crucial to the very stability of the federal government in Islamabad.
While it may take days for the electoral dust to settle, democratic roots are continuing to spread across Pakistan. For the third consecutive election, a changing of the guard in Islamabad is taking place with ballots rather than bullets.