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  Opinion   Edit  16 Feb 2024  AA Edit | New coalition in Pakistan will face huge challenges

AA Edit | New coalition in Pakistan will face huge challenges

THE ASIAN AGE.
Published : Feb 17, 2024, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Feb 17, 2024, 12:05 am IST

Pakistan's elections reveal a tussle between public sentiment and military sway, as a PML-N-led coalition emerges amidst discontent.

The two major Pakistan parties that joined forces to oust Imran Khan as prime minister in 2022 said on February 13 they would form a new coalition to rule the country, after an election last week failed to produce a decisive winner. (Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)
 The two major Pakistan parties that joined forces to oust Imran Khan as prime minister in 2022 said on February 13 they would form a new coalition to rule the country, after an election last week failed to produce a decisive winner. (Photo by Banaras KHAN / AFP)

The only criterion polls in Pakistan must fulfil is that the result must be in conformity with what the Pakistan Army desires. That may be met if the anticipated hotch-potch coalition of six parties led by the PML-N takes office sometime soon.

These elections were, however, about the people defying the wishes of the army and voting in more candidates from Imran’s banned party PTI who stood as independents.

In the age of the social media, the voters’ preferences was seen to coalesce better, with young voters accounting for 44 per cent of votes cast, in what was largely a people’s message against the army-backed government that was in place and a defiance of old tactics of intimidating and suppressing voters.

And yet the new government may be headed by Shehbaz Sharif (72) rather than his elder brother Nawaz (74), which too may be in line with the thinking of the army brass who had worked with him or through him as Prime Minister in the last government before the polls of 2024.

The imprisoned Imran Khan tried to put his oar in the uncertain waters by naming a Prime Minister candidate as well as a Punjab CM candidate in the wake of a split verdict that saw his “independents” top the poll with 92, followed by PML-N with 75, PPP with 54 and MQM-P with 17.

The rules governing parties and their candidates are, however, stacked against the former cricketer. The electoral system will lead to the coalition government commanding a near two-thirds majority with a major claim to the 60 seats for women and 10 for minorities that only parties are eligible to nominate members to.

The legitimacy of the six-party coalition of PML-N, PPP, MQM-P, PML-Q, IPP and BAP, with 152 legislators in a national assembly of 265 contested seats, will be their numbers as well as the blessings of the army. They had a somewhat mixed experience of running the government with a similar alliance until it was time to hand over the reins to a caretaker PM ahead of the polls.

Assuming it will be Shehbaz’s PDM government that will soon be in place, what it will face is a cocktail of troubles, most of all, economic despair after a bruising experience of an IMF bailout that led to the raising of oil prices sky high, stoking runaway inflation further to near 25 per cent.

The mandate may be dubious, but the task will remain formidable in the leaders having to tackle social fragmentation that has come to afflict Pakistan society after the dynasties ensconced in seats of power were challenged by the charismatic Imran Khan, initially with the backing of the generals.

What Pakistan needs most is stability at a time of deep political polarisation rather than a return to the destructive ways of Imran Khan sympathisers who took aim at Establishment symbols in riotous fashion that led to the imprisonment of leaders or their having to go into hiding.

Any reconciliation leading to release of Imran Khan from an avalanche of prison sentences will remain a pipedream for longer. The massive poll rigging that cost the majority to PTI’s independents will remain a flashpoint of anger, but if it leads to civil strife, it will be a massive challenge to the new government and a dampener for international lenders who would have to prop up Pakistan’s economy to emerge from the brink of collapse.

Tags: pakistan elections 2024, aa edit, imran khan