Pakistan Bulletin

An up-to-date and informed analyses of key issues of Pakistan.

Navigating Uncertainty: Pakistan's Post-Election Landscape and the Path Forward

February 2024

Exploring the multifaceted challenges and opportunities emerging in Pakistan’s political landscape following the February 8 general elections.

The recently concluded general elections in Pakistan, initially scheduled for November 2023 but held on February 8, have unveiled a fragmented political scenario. After four days of tense anticipation, results unveiled amidst allegations of irregularities showcasing a divided political landscape. Despite speculation about possible election delays, a crackdown against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and a low level of trust in the electoral process, the turnout was almost 48 per cent, and the polls were held relatively peacefully. An estimated 60 million people exercised their right to vote for 265 National Assembly and 590 provincial assembly constituencies.
The lead-up to the elections was marred by accusations of a skewed playing field, particularly against the PTI. The party faced a military-led crackdown after the May 2023 protest and clash with the political and security forces, while Imran Khan’s incarceration and the Supreme Court’s denial of PTI’s election symbol further complicated matters.

The fragmented election results necessitate a coalition government, but allegations of vote tampering have cast doubt on its legitimacy, further complicating the political landscape.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s return from exile to lead his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-N’s election campaign added to the already charged atmosphere. These pre-election tensions cast a shadow over the fairness and transparency of the polls, sowing seeds of doubt that continue to linger even after the results.

Despite the challenges, the victory of PTI-backed independent candidates defied expectations. Independent candidates, closely aligned with Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, emerged as the dominant force, clinching 93 seats in the 264-seat National Assembly. They were closely followed by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) with 75 seats, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with 54, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) with 17 seats.

Pre-election tensions and fragmented mandate
The February 2-24 election outcome stands as a significant milestone, potentially signalling a rejection of dynastic politics and military influence. It highlights the public’s yearning for change and a desire for alternative avenues in a political system perceived as dominated by traditional power structures. However, the lack of a clear majority has complicated matters, raising concerns about the legitimacy and stability of any future government.
However, with no party securing an absolute majority, the election results have stirred significant controversy and uncertainty regarding Pakistan’s political trajectory. The final vote tally was published by the Election Commission more than 60 hours after polling concluded, leading to post poll allegations over the unusual delay.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh provinces, PTI-backed independent candidates and PPP emerged as the largest parties, respectively. While PML-N and independent candidates supported by PTI won the most seats, the inclusion of some independent candidates, backed by PTI and others, has bolstered PML-N’s numbers to form the government in Punjab potentially. In Balochistan, PML-N, PPP, and JUI-F emerged as the leading political parties.
The coalition conundrum
As of late February, the government formation options include the PML-N forming a coalition with PPP and MQM, or PTI forging alliances with smaller parties.
Political parties understand that the current economic and political climate will necessitate tough decisions from the federal government, and no single entity is willing to shoulder this burden alone.
In the prevailing national political and economic landscape, it is evident to all parties that navigating the federal government will involve addressing sensitive issues such as fuel prices, energy tariffs, IMF agreements, relations with the establishment, and foreign affairs.
While the federal government may be led by the PML-N, it would have to seek cooperation from other parties in making difficult decisions.
If PTI leads the opposition, it could maintain its vocal stance and mobilize its supporters, possibly leading to political instability. Its effectiveness will hinge on its capability to provide constructive criticism and form alliances. To secure seats reserved for women and non-Muslims in the national and provincial assemblies, PTI has been compelled to form alliances with smaller religious parties, such as the Sunni Ittehad Council.
On the other hand, all major political parties are keen on forming provincial governments due to the abundance of resources and funds at the provincial level. Provincial chief ministers wield considerable autonomy and authority compared to the Prime Minister, as most development projects and funding is allocated to provinces. For instance, Punjab is expected to receive nearly Rs 1,100 billion under the current year’s National Finance Commission distribution.
Challenges and opportunities
The deep-rooted political divisions in Pakistan pose a significant challenge to the formation and functioning of a stable coalition government. This volatile environment, simmering since the removal of the PTI government through a no-confidence vote in April 2022, has further intensified the post-elections political landscape. This charged environment presents significant challenges for the newly formed government.
The polls also took place against a backdrop of precarious security, with ongoing threats from militant groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), local Islamic State (IS) affiliates, and ethno-separatist movements in Balochistan and Sindh. This volatile environment undoubtedly impacted the electoral process and continues to pose a significant challenge for the newly formed government. In the months leading up to the elections, the military reported a surge in terrorist attacks, particularly in Khyer Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, aimed at disrupting the polls. The new government will inherit a complex security landscape, demanding immediate attention.

The country's future will depend on the ability of its political leaders to overcome their differences, forge meaningful coalitions, and address the pressing issues facing the nation.

Beyond security and political challenges, the new government inherits a precarious economic situation. High inflation, unemployment, and a burgeoning external debt pose significant hurdles to growth and stability. The immediate completion of the current International Monetary Fund (IMF) Standby Arrangement is crucial for economic stability. However, a looming $24 billion external debt payment due by June 2024 casts a long shadow, demanding sound economic policies to revive growth and improve the lives of ordinary citizens.
Pakistan’s incoming government is set to pursue a foreign policy focused on economic revitalization. Central to this strategy will be securing financial assistance and aid from the IMF and other international financial institutions, as well as garnering support from bilateral donors. Diplomatic support from the US is crucial not only for securing an IMF deal but also for encouraging allies, particularly in the Middle East, to provide financial assistance to Pakistan.
Pakistan’s February 8 elections have ushered in a period of uncertainty and transformation. The fractured political landscape presents both challenges and opportunities. The country’s future will depend on the ability of its political leaders to overcome their differences, forge meaningful coalitions, and address the pressing issues facing the population. By prioritizing economic development, and security, Pakistan can navigate this complex period and emerge as a more stable, prosperous, and democratic nation.

Zia Ur Rehman


Zia Ur Rehman is a senior journalist and political analyst.

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