The Platform

Pakistani women in Rawalpindi voting in 2013. (DFID)

Pakistan’s elections early next year are hugely consequential.

Pakistan, often referred to as a youthful democracy, is poised to hold general elections on February 8. This South Asian nation is grappling with multifaceted challenges that span economic distress, political turbulence, regional security concerns, and the contentious issue of Afghan immigrant repatriation. The caretaker government took the helm on August 9, in the wake of parliament’s dissolution.

The transition to democracy has been clouded by uncertainty surrounding the nation’s internal dynamics. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), citing a shortfall of funds, has sought additional time to reconstitute electoral constituencies in alignment with the latest census data. The upcoming general parliamentary elections are critical for both the country and the region, as the incoming government will be charged with solidifying democratic prospects. The conduct of the general election is further underscored by an uptick in terrorist activities and security threats emanating from Afghanistan, necessitating a national consensus to effectively address them.

The outcome of Pakistan’s maiden digital census in 2023 is set to significantly influence the 2024 elections; thus, the subsequent general elections will be conducted under a revised framework. The population and demographic shifts, as unveiled by the August census, require the ECP to adjust the apportionment of voting seats. The ECP’s role is to safeguard electoral integrity and to ensure that the updated constituencies reflect a diversity that adheres to the principle of equal voting rights.

A prevalent view within Pakistan is that the caretaker government is intentionally postponing the 2023 census to hinder the proportional representation of new voters in the forthcoming election. Notably, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) undertakes a national census every decade. The ECP also updates and maintains voter rolls to guarantee that all registered voters are eligible to partake in the general election. An issue arose when 13 million voters were disenfranchised due to a misalignment between census data and voter registration systems, causing discrepancies in district numbers and voter registries that did not correlate with census figures. Although the postponement of the 2023 census has introduced complications, it should not be interpreted as an attempt to dissuade voter participation.

Concerns regarding the military’s potential overreach in the upcoming general elections are palpable. Nonetheless, the nation’s institutions have previously demonstrated their capacity to administer impartial elections under legal standards. The legal entanglements facing Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN), and his repatriation to Pakistan, underscore the government’s commitment to legal protocols without favoring any political faction. Despite apprehensions that the no-confidence motion could sideline Imran Khan, Pakistanis have exhibited a steadfast dedication to democratic ideals. It is essential to maintain optimism that Pakistan will continue its stride toward a fairer and more democratic future, despite the current trials in upholding democratic norms.

The president of Pakistan ratified the 25th constitutional amendment, which officially restructured the region from federally administered tribal areas into the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, thereby altering the legal framework of the territory. Notwithstanding this, the transition’s fluidity remains to be seen.

The ECP has reduced the representation of the National Assembly (NA) members in Pakistan’s rugged northwest from twelve to six. The province is now apportioned 55 NA seats, with ten reserved for women and the remaining for the general electorate. The provincial parliament will consist of 145 members, with 115 serving the general populace, 26 for women, and four for non-Muslims. The ECP’s initial delineation report indicates that the ex-FATA’s 12 NA seats have been halved for the first time following the FATA-KP merger. Despite this, KP acquired an additional 16 seats.

The district of Mohmand will retain a non-aligned legislator. Due to the low population in Orakzai and Hangu districts, the ECP amalgamated them. The report further reveals that ten out of the 36 KP districts have been consolidated with adjacent districts due to insufficient numbers to warrant separate NA representation.

The 2024 elections are a referendum on Pakistan’s democracy, economy, regional stability, and security stance. Amidst economic recession, political schisms, social unrest, and external adversities, the elections are a determinant of the nation’s trajectory. The elections will also bear implications for Pakistan’s global standing and its diplomatic engagements with Afghanistan, China, the U.S., and India. The national objectives of political parties like the PTI, PML (N), and PPP are expected to kindle intense electoral debates.

The elections cast a spotlight on concerns surrounding preliminary census data, the interim administration’s credibility, media freedom, and the essence of free speech. Pakistanis must partake in an election that epitomizes openness and democracy. The upcoming elections present Pakistan with an invaluable opportunity to fortify its democratic ethos and pave the way toward thriving, peaceful nationhood in 2024.

Abdul Mussawer Safi is an author at various platforms such as Modern Diplomacy, Kashmir Watch, and Eurasia Review. He is pursuing a Bachelor's degree in International Relations from National Defense University. He has a profound interest in world politics, especially in the regional dynamics of South Asia. His academic strengths are critical and SWOT analysis.