June 21, 2024

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Imran Khan's allies accuse Pakistani officials of vote rigging

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Imran Khan's allies accused Pakistani authorities of rigging the vote count in Thursday's elections to prevent them from stepping down from power after achieving stunning electoral success.

Candidates loyal to Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party won the largest number of seats, but did not obtain a majority. They claim to have won more seats, despite a military-backed campaign of arrests and harassment aimed at crushing the party before the election.

Although the vote counting process was not completed as of Saturday afternoon, independent candidates — PTI leaders overwhelmingly barred from running under the party symbol — secured 100 of the 265 seats being contested, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan.

This puts them in a comfortable lead over their main rivals, the Pakistan Muslim League-N, led by veteran leader Nawaz Sharif, which won 71 seats, and the Pakistan Peoples Party, led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, on 54 seats.

The PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party, the two institutional parties that ruled Pakistan long before the rise of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), began negotiations to form a ruling coalition late on Friday.

Rauf Hassan, leader of the PTI party, said that dozens of seats had been manipulated. “Unfortunately, because the results were reversed overnight, our progress declined,” Hassan told reporters, pledging to challenge the results in court.

The party called on its supporters to protest peacefully in front of electoral offices in about 10 electoral districts where the results had not been announced as of Saturday afternoon.

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The elections were marred by delays, mobile network outages and alleged irregularities during vote counting, with the European Union warning of “allegations of severe interference in the electoral process.”

The United States said it was “concerned by allegations of interference in the electoral process” but would “work with the next Pakistani government, regardless of political party.”

PTI alleged that election officials manipulated the results to reduce their share of seats. In a message from Khan, who has been imprisoned since last August and was not eligible to run in the elections, the former prime minister said that his party had won 170 seats.

“We have won the 2024 elections with a two-thirds majority,” said the message, which PTI converted into an AI-generated version of Khan’s voice. “Everyone has seen the power of your voice. Now you must prove that you can protect your voice.”

With no party winning an outright majority, the stalemate threatens to plunge the new parliament into a state of tension and dysfunction at a time when Pakistan is suffering from an economic crisis.

Sharif's brother Shehbaz met Zardari as the PML-N and the Pakistan Peoples Party, which had already served in a short-lived coalition after Khan was ousted as prime minister in 2022, sought to beat the PTI to power. .

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a professor of political science, said on Saturday that he expected the two parties to have an advantage in forming the new government, but the PTI [will] Incitement inside and outside Parliament.”

Some in the PTI have indicated they would also be willing to form a coalition with smaller parties, but analysts have warned that preventing defections between technically independent candidates would be particularly difficult.

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“The area of ​​​​the independents will be for sale to the highest bidder,” said Tahira Abdullah, a human rights activist.

Abdullah, who monitored the elections on Thursday, said that in the three electoral districts she visited, the authorities tried to prevent her and others from watching the vote counting.

She said the evidence she saw “pointed to only one conclusion: that something happened in the middle of the night that they did not want the observers to witness.”

Analysts had expected PTI to have little chance of success. After losing power in a no-confidence vote in 2022, Khan fell out with the military – whose support is seen as crucial to Pakistan's governance – culminating in the arrest of thousands of PTI leaders and supporters in the run-up to the election.

Pakistani Army Commander General Asim Munir defended the elections that took place on Saturday, describing them as “free and without obstacles.” He added that Pakistani parties must show “political maturity and unity” and “stay away from the politics of chaos and polarization.”

But for millions of Pakistani supporters of the Tehreek-e-Insaf who are convinced that their party has won, the prospect of a return to the status quo under the country's political dynasties represents a serious violation of the popular will.

“Everyone knows what is happening in Pakistan,” said Mohsin Raza, a 21-year-old university student, referring to the crackdown on the PTI movement. They have already ruled Pakistan for more than 30 years. “The people of Pakistan want a new leader.”