New Delhi: As Pakistan approaches its 2024 general elections, the political landscape reveals a complex tapestry of power struggles, unexpected alliances, and grassroots movements that promise to make these elections one of the most interesting in the nation’s history. In the heated political arena of Pakistan’s 2024 general elections, set to take place on feb 8th, 2024 to elect the members of the 16th National Assembly, a diverse array of political parties and candidates are in the fray, making it one of the most contested elections in recent history.
With over twelve political parties registered, the electoral battlefield showcases a wide spectrum of ideologies and regional interests. The number of candidates vying for seats is staggering, with thousands of individuals, including a significant number of independents, contesting across the nation.
Among these are the prominent parties: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by Nawaz Sharif; the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), spearheaded by Bilawal Bhutto; and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), under the leadership of Imran Khan, with a notable presence of their candidates even amidst challenging circumstances.
Shehbaz Sharif, senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and former chief minister of Pakistan, finds himself in a precarious position. Experts opine that despite having been brought into power with the establishment / army’s backing, his influence across Pakistan seems to be waning. His campaign, focused on the government’s achievements before 2018, conveniently sidesteps discussions of the subsequent period marked by high inflation under his brother’s governance.
Sharif’s strategic decision to contest from Kasur, abandoning his traditional stronghold in Lahore, is a testament to the shifting political sands. Interestingly, despite the apparent pressure from the military establishment in the past, Sharif refrains from criticizing army officers, a move that has not sat well with the public.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto, is gaining momentum. For the first time in three decades, a Bhutto is contesting from Lahore – a symbolic move since the PPP was founded in the house of stalwart leader Mubashar Hassan from this very city. Bilawal’s campaign is a clarion call to the workers of PTI and the general populace, positioning the electoral battle as one between the ‘Lion’ (PML-N’s symbol) and the ‘Arrow’ (PPP’s symbol). He vows to fight against the oppression and challenges Sharif’s leadership.
The establishment’s apparent target, however, is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by Imran Khan. In an unprecedented move, many of PTI’s top leaders, including Khan, find themselves behind bars, and the party’s election symbol, the cricket bat, has been controversially retracted. Despite these setbacks, more than 2000 PTI candidates are contesting as independents or from PTI symbol across 800 seats. The party’s campaign, stifled in physical spaces, has found a vibrant life on social media, with virtual rallies and songs in support of Khan resonating with the younger demographic.
In an inspiring turn of events, the wives and mothers of incarcerated PTI leaders have stepped up to contest the elections. This surge in female candidacy, symbolized by Usman Dar’s mother’s Rehana Dar passionate campaign, underscores a pivotal moment for women in Pakistan’s political arena. She is contesting against Khawaja Asif, Pakistan’s former defense minister. The slogan she gave to the public “Maa Tujeh Salam” (Mother, I salute you) is emotionally resonating with the public and creating a stronger connection with her. Usman Dar, regarded as one of Khan’s trusted aides.
Qaisra Parvez, the spouse of Pervez Elahi, a senior leader in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and former Chief Minister of Punjab, is contesting the elections from the N-64 Gujrat constituency. Additionally, Ruba Umar, wife of Umar Dar, is a candidate in the PP-46 constituency. This election marks a historic first in Pakistan, as the women from the Chaudhry family are stepping directly into the political arena. They are not only aiming to uphold their family’s honor but are also taking a firm stance against the establishment.
As the elections draw near, experts analyze voter turnout as a crucial factor. The high voter turnout in the recent by-elections in Punjab, where PTI secured 17 out of 18 seats, indicates a possible tilt in favor of PTI. However, there are concerns that efforts might be made to suppress voter turnout, which could lead to a more evenly distributed outcome among parties and benefit the establishment. Experts opine that this scenario could pave the way for a coalition government, potentially uniting Bilawal Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in governance.
The 2024 general elections in Pakistan are more than a political contest; they represent a pivotal test of the establishment’s influence and a significant challenge for Nawaz Sharif’s party. With the political landscape evolving rapidly, these elections promise to be a landmark event in Pakistan’s democratic journey.