Decoding Pak elections and the implications for region | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Decoding Pak elections and the implications for region

Feb 19, 2024 07:00 AM IST

“Everyone’s reading of the events before the election is out the window,” said sociologist Zoha Waseem on last week’s episode of Grand Tamasha

Last Thursday, voters in Pakistan went to the polls in the country’s first general elections since the July 2018 election that brought former prime minister Imran Khan to power. In 2022, Khan was ousted in an unprecedented no confidence vote and now finds himself behind bars.

In the months before the election, the PTI was repressed with party members jailed, harassed, and eventually forced to contest the 2024 elections as independents (HT)
In the months before the election, the PTI was repressed with party members jailed, harassed, and eventually forced to contest the 2024 elections as independents (HT)

In a stunning reversal of fortune, independent candidates backed by Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), emerged as the single largest party, with allegations of vote rigging rampant. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s traditional political heavyweights are engaged in a furious effort to form a coalition government.

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“Everyone’s reading of the events before the election is out the window. And everyone has to start from scratch and figure out what has happened,” said sociologist Zoha Waseem, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Warwick. She made these comments on last week’s episode of Grand Tamasha, a weekly podcast co-produced by HT and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

In the months before the election, the PTI was repressed with party members jailed, harassed, and eventually forced to contest the 2024 elections as independents. Pakistan’s powerful military was widely seen as the guiding force behind these moves. But the election results appear to have caught the military—and perhaps many Pakistanis—by surprise.

Elaborating on the unanticipated result, Waseem told host Milan Vaishnav: “It was exciting because initially, in the lead-up to the polls, there was this idea that people were not interested. The momentum, the energy, the excitement were not there, which made people seem quite disheartened and think that voters are not going to turnout, this is already set, and everything is already engineered and the stage has been managed.” However, she noted, “once the results start coming in, the excitement comes because you’re suddenly seeing that this is not going as predicted; this was not going as per the military’s plans.”

Waseem remarked that many political observers did not predict this shock outcome because “they underestimated Imran Khan’s pull and the way that he inspires young voters in a way that PMLN [Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)] has not been able to do. We also underestimated Khan’s voters and supporters’ creativity and improvisation,” she said. In spite of months of repression, PTI supporters found ways of using mobile phone applications to inform their supporters where to go on the day of the polls. And they found ways of communicating with their voters using artificial intelligence and other tactics on social and digital media.

“What the establishment was trying to do was keep Khan out of the public eye,” Waseem remarked, “but PTI’s supporters and workers were really crafty and creative in keeping the conversation going and allowing Khan to keep inspiring voters the day of the polls.” To add insult to injury, the military overplayed its hand. “The army thought that using so much repression, using all these cases to delegitimize Khan would work in its favor,” she explained. “At some point, it started backfiring.”

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