After a campaign marked by instances of violence and a polling day marred by allegations of vote rigging, and a suicide bombing in the city of Quetta, election results in Pakistan began trickling in on Thursday. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, led by former cricketer Imran Khan, which is believed to have had the support of the military establishment, has taken a lead and is likely to form the government. The National Assembly of Pakistan has 272 seats although elections were held for only 270 following deadly attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. As of 4:00 PM in Pakistan, the PTI was leading in 119 seats, according to Dawn. Elections were also held for four provincial assemblies.
Almost 106 million registered voters were expected to cast their vote on July 25. Despite the heavy rain in different parts of the country and death of scores of civilians in the Balochistan suicide attack, the turnout, as per the authorities, was 51%, only 2% less than the previous elections where Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) emerged victorious.
However key opposition parties disputed the results. PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif alleged widespread irregularities. Citing examples such as an incident in the polling station in DG Khan where the PML-N agent was pushed out, he said the party would explore all options to expose these excesses and get them redressed. He said at a press conference that the day’s incidents had pushed the country back by 30 years.
“This is.. outright rigging and the results based on massive rigging will cause irreparable damage to the country,” he tweeted.
Pakistan Peoples Party leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also tweeted that his parties agents had been evicted from polling booths across the countr.
Another key development was the failure of religious extremist parties to make an impact on the polls. Whether it was the Khadim Rizvi-led Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan, the Milli Muslim League that was backed by the banned Jamaat ul Dawaah of Hafiz Saeed, or the Muttahida Majlis Amal that was in power in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan in the mid-2000s, all of them failed to win a significant number of votes.
A delay in the announcement of results also led to some controversy. Muhammad Raza Khan, the Chief Election Commissioner, attributed it to technical difficulties as they were using a new results transmission system.
Imran Khan positioned himself as an outsider and someone who would bring about change in an attempt to appeal to younger voters. But many are not convinced by the argument. Taimur Rehman of the Pakistan Mazdoor Kissan Party told Peoples Dispatch that “Leftist and Progressive forces are opposed to Imran Khan because he represents a right-wing shift in Pakistan’s politics.”
“He strongly supported the military establishment and the religious right wing and among the candidates of his party were feudal lords and capitalists. Imran has become the new champion of this block that has always helped the rise of the right in Pakistan,” Taimur said.
On the reason behind Imran Khan’s success in the elections, Taimur pointed to the creation of a narrative beginning with incidents such as the dismissal of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. “Media organizations, among others, promoted this narrative of tampering and censorship and how all politicians were corrupt and there was a need for a fresh face. This was also Imran Khan’s narrative from the very beginning,” he explained.
He noted the context in which the election was held “The military was literally inside the polling stations and considering the politics going on over the past few months, the signals were quite clear that the military certainly didn’t play the neutral role,” Taimur said.
The elections also saw parties that were part of the Left United Front putting up a number of candidates. Taimur said the overall performance of the left was much better than the previous election although there was still a long way to go.
In the aftermath of the elections, he said he saw a broad anti-right wing front coming into being. “Already, a left democratic front of around 10 parties has been formed, But I think the new front has to be broader and should include elements from the left of centre and even the centre. This will come together relatively quickly” he said.
Earlier on the day of polling, a blast occurred in the eastern part of Quetta near a school where polling was taking place. As many as 32 people were killed in the attack and scores were wounded.
The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack. Over the past week, three similar attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan had resulted in the death of over 150 people and saw over 250 getting injured.
(With inputs from Umer Beigh and V. Arun Kumar)