Delays, deals, nepo babies, trends and vote rigging: Five takeaways from Pakistan’s elections

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Pakistan held parliamentary election l ast Thursday, with 44 parties fighting for a share of 266 seats in the National Assembly, or lower house of parliament. A further 70 seats have been reserved for minorities and women. If no party wins a majority of 169 seats, the one with the biggest share can form a coalition government.

The vote was overshadowed by violence, an unprecedented national shutdown of all mobile phone services and allegations of vote rigging.

Here are the five main takeaways from the election.

DELAYS, DELAYS, DELAYS

The national mobile shutdown was aimed at maintaining law and order following several attacks, but it was also responsible for a delay in the communication of results, according to authorities. The Election Commission hadn’t published any results more than 15 hours after polls closed.

By Saturday midday, there were still a dozen results pending, with no reason given for the tardiness in announcing these. The list of new parliamentarians can only be published once all the results are out, prolonging uncertainty and instability.

Pakistan’s national human rights body said there was no excuse for the hold-up and expressed concern about the lack of transparency. The international community, including the U.S. and European Union, was also worried about how long it was taking to publish all of the results.

VOTE-RIGGING AND OTHER TRICKS

Candidates observing the count at polling stations said they saw significant leads suddenly disappear or results that were announced in their favor only to be reversed to declare an opponent the winner. They said they were marched off polling station grounds or barred from entering once voting ended and that polling agents were stopped from collecting results.

The majority of irregularities and impediments were reported by independent candidates backed by imprisoned ex-premier Imran Khan’s party. One of them, Salman Akram Raja, has filed a case at Lahore High Court challenging the results in his constituency.

TRENDS AND TURNOUTS

The Election Commission hasn’t released information about voter turnout, saying it will do so once all the results are out. But early analysis from the Free and Fair Election Network said up to 60 million people went to the polls last Thursday, out of a total electorate of 127 million. That’s a 47% turnout, lower than the one for the 2018 parliamentary polls.

The organization also said that more votes went to political parties or independent candidates backed by Khan’s PTI party and that major parties have found support bases outside their traditional strongholds.

DEALS, DEALS, DEALS

No party won a majority of National Assembly seats. But two of them claimed victory anyway. A coalition is inevitable and the horse-trading has started.

By Friday midnight in the eastern city of Lahore, the younger brother of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif had met kingmaker and former president, Asif Ali Zardari, and his son, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari. The Bhutto-Zardaris run the Pakistan People’s Party, which has 54 seats so far. Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League, or PML-N, party has 71. They could muster the remaining votes from other lawmakers to get the required number.

The independents, meanwhile, have to tell the National Assembly within 72 hours if they have joined a party or want to maintain their independent status. They have 100 seats, making them a valuable prize for the Sharifs and Bhutto-Zardaris.

NEPO BABIES

Pakistani politics are a family affair. Maryam Nawaz Sharif is the daughter of ex-premier Nawaz Sharif. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s mother is the assassinated premier Benazir Bhutto. Benazir’s father was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, also a prime minister.

Maryam Nawaz and Bilawal have increased their public visibility in recent years, him with his stint as foreign minister, and her taking on a greater role in party politics, especially during her father’s four years of self-exile abroad in the UK to avoid prison sentences.

While Bilawal has been PPP’s chairman since 2007 and is likely to be prime minister at some point because of his lineage, Maryam is being groomed for the top job and has been cast as heir of the PML-N, over her uncle Shehbaz and his son Hamza.

She accompanied her father at rallies, giving fiery and uncompromising speeches, and escorted him on polling day when he went to cast his vote. If she doesn’t get a role in the cabinet, her father could slot her into the job of chief minister of Punjab province, seen as a stepping stone to the premiership.

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