02/06/2024, 19.35
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Pakistan Elections: Nawaz Sharif vs. Imran Khan's 'independents'

Despite being in prison and excluded from voting, the populist former prime minister overshadowed the election campaign, whose outcome will be decided next Thursday. The UN Human Rights Office is “disturbed” about "harassment, arrests and prolonged detentions". Bilawal Bhutto is running in Lahore to try to breathe new life in the Pakistan Peoples Party.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) – With the last rallies underway this evening, Pakistan’s election campaign settled for a cool-down period, as required by law, just before the vote on Thursday, 8 February.

Four months after the end of the current legislature (and two years after the now-jailed Imran Khan lost a vote of confidence in parliament despite his victory in 2018), the country is moving towards a very tense vote.

During the campaign, the courts and the government apparatus did everything to favour three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The 74-year-old leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was pardoned in connection to some corruption cases related to the Panama Papers scandals to boost the chance of his far-from popular brother Shebhaz, who became prime minister after former Prime Minister Imran Khan lost the confidence of parliament (and the very powerful military).

Ostensibly, the main contender is Bilawal Bhutto. The 35-year-old son of Benazir Bhutto (the first woman to head a government in a Muslim country, who was assassinated in 2007) is the current leader of the country’s grand old Pakistan Peoples Party, which has been in a quasi-permanent crisis for some time, in many ways mirroring that of Rahul Gandhi's Indian National Congress.

To take up the challenge, Bhutto chose to run in Lahore, Punjab, a crucial province, rather than Sindh, the traditional electoral base of the Bhutto family. But Sharif's real rival remains Imran Khan, the 71-year-old populist leader who is still very popular among many Pakistanis.

Although he cannot run from prison and his own party has been prevented from using his trademark cricket bat as its symbol, Khan’s fate has dominated the election campaign.

His wife Bushra Bibi made headlines today, by appealing to the Islamabad High Court asking that she be sent to jail, not serve her sentence under house arrest, for valuable gifts she and her husband failed to declare, a way to reinforce the idea that the couple is the victim of a plot.

Although Pakistanis cannot directly vote for him, Imran Khan is more present than ever in these elections. And his candidates are running as "independents". Still, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI)[*] reported more raids at its offices and police intimidation against its members.

The situation is confirmed by the UN Human Rights Office. “We are disturbed therefore by the pattern of harassment, arrests, and prolonged detentions of PTI leaders and their supporters, which has continued during the election period,” reads a statement by Liz Throssell, a spokesperson and media officer for the UN body.

There is a great deal of anticipation for the results that the Election Commission of Pakistan promises to release by Friday.

Some 128 million Pakistanis out of a population of 241 million are eligible to vote (in a country with a median age of around 20 with almost half of the population underage).

In addition to the National Assembly, Pakistanis will also vote for the country’s four provincial assemblies (Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), choosing two representatives in 266 single-member constituencies: one federal, one provincial.

The National Assembly is made up of 336 seats. In addition to the 266 parliamentarians elected by direct vote, another 70 are reserved seats – 60 for women and 10 for non-Muslims – which are allocated at a later date, taking into account the votes obtained by each party.

To win a vote of confidence, a would-be prime minister must have the support of at least 169 members of the National Assembly.

In the previous general elections in July 2018, PTI won 149 seats, compared to 82 for the PML-N, and 54 for the PPP.

[*] Pakistani Justice Movement

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