The 2024 election now takes center stage as Pakistan stands at a pivotal juncture, grappling with a myriad of challenges, adding another layer of complexity to an already intricate landscape, with speculations rife whether the elections would be “free and fair” or another controlled and choreographed circus, the air is full of expectations and uncertainty. This has added to the atmosphere of fear amidst increasing political polarization, uncertain economic future, politicized and compromised institutions, rising poverty, prowling food insecurity, and imminent fear of further climate change damages.
In addition to these internal woes is the added anxiety over the rising resurgence of terrorism, particularly perpetrated by TTP and other disgruntled elements encouraged by our detractors, particularly in our neighborhood. The recent escalation of tensions with Iran over attacks on targets within our territory and the arrest of Indian agents involved in the assassination of our nationals have further highlighted the external security threats that Pakistan faces.
Among these threats the soap opera currently being enacted in the Pakistani political theatre is no less exhilarating and capricious than the Game of thrones.
The four-side saga between politicians, courts, caretakers, and the military continues unabated, with 250 million citizens watching in dismay. The choices made by the electorate in this crucial moment will wield substantial influence over the country’s trajectory. It is, however, clear to most that elections are unlikely to bring stability or reduce political confrontation in the foreseeable future.
With a big question mark on the authenticity of the upcoming elections, irrespective of the electoral outcome, some degree of social unrest and protests will occur, further attenuating the already fragile nature of democracy in our country. With the resurgence of cult politics and populism, the largely illiterate electorate, and negatively brained-washed youth, the era of sane debate based on logic and reasoning and consideration of each party manifesto on its merit is now a far cry in Pakistan.
Predicting election results based on opinion polls, considered analysis, and examination of given realities is always daunting in Pakistan, given the hidden influences, considerations, and meandering in elections by extra-constitutional forces. However, according to political analysts, both local and foreign, a vague consensus is emerging suggesting that the parliamentary strength of the major political parties in the arena will remain modest, and the nation will once again witness the extravaganza of horse trading of independents keeping political stability fragile.
What is required in Pakistan today as a result of the 2024 elections is a rejuvenated government spearheaded by a single party or a strong alliance of two or three leading parties with a targeted specific, and updated manifesto and a solid plan of action for putting the country back on the development trajectory.
A critical element in determining the results of the 2023 election would be the election turnout ratio. Should the turnout ratio exceed the traditional average turnout ratio, which has remained low and has never reached the high it did in the 1971 elections, the results would be more acceptable and credible.
It should also be admitted that the people of Pakistan, though largely illiterate, are today much more politically educated and enlightened as compared to what they were in the past. Besides, the political circus unfolding in the country for the last six years has ignited the interest of the general public, with emotions running high on all sides. The 2024 elections, therefore, carry great importance in bringing a sustainable political set-up and silencing the clamor of inter-institutional clashes.
The 2024 general elections would bring forth new and young candidates to the Parliament both at the federal and provincial levels.
In Pakistan, 64% population is between the ages of 15 and 29 years, and this includes a significant portion of the first-time voters who may be looking for fresh faces and young blood as their hopes and concerns about their future may resonate better with young leadership. More than any previous election, in 2024 the election result may well depend on the young and new voters. This element no one in the political arena should ignore.
As Pakistan stands on the precipice of the 2024 election, it confronts many critical challenges that demand immediate attention. According to the UNDP Human Development Report-2022, Pakistan’s Multidimensional Poverty Index Headcount has reached 38.3%, surpassing the South Asian average of 29.0%. This alarming statistic positions Pakistan second in South Asia, trailing only Afghanistan with a staggering 55.9% poverty rate.
Rural poverty outpaces urban poverty by a factor of two, and this disparity is evident across all provinces. The non-monetary aspects of poverty are under siege due to ongoing economic crises and natural disasters. The escalating poverty rate not only jeopardizes economic well-being but also exacerbates disparities in education, healthcare, and overall human development. Pakistan now grapples with an acute inflationary crisis, marked by a significant upswing in fuel and electricity prices.
Effective political leadership, therefore, assumes paramount importance in addressing these intricate challenges, encompassing climate change, poverty alleviation, inflation control, and responsible management of population growth. These multifaceted issues necessitate visionary leadership committed to long-term sustainability.
However, in Pakistan, it is also crucial for the political leadership to address the problematic role of the military-led establishment in shaping the nation’s political landscape. While Pakistan has experienced periods of military rule, recent years have shifted toward a quasi-democratic system. The military’s involvement in domestic politics, including alleged interference in elections and governance, has raised concerns about the erosion of democratic norms.
Therefore, rehabilitating the political system in Pakistan and putting it firmly back on the democratic trail would only be possible if the 2024 elections were not only free and fair but were also perceived to be so by both the political parties and the electorate. A free and fair election is the only guarantee for a strong political dispensation to emerge after the election. A political dispensation that would remain unwaveringly committed to the people’s welfare and the country’s sustainable development. Effective leadership will be instrumental in crafting policies that resonate with the burgeoning population’s needs and aspirations.
Investments in education and healthcare are imperative to equip the youth with the skills essential for national development.
This is only possible if the government that comes into power after the elections is allowed to complete its constitutional term and get the time to put its mandate and manifesto into effect, as it is essential to have a strong National Assembly supported by the electorate. It is also important to restore the credibility and stature of the legislature, as it has recently been under constant criticism for its inefficiency and ineffectiveness. If not, the country will continue to experience intermittent political instability and domestic protests as the economic situation remains fragile and tentative.
However, irrespective of the election outcome, decades of mismanagement in government, corruption, and a lack of structural reforms require a long and painful path to restore political stability, reinvigorate the economy, attract meaningful investment, and re-establish international confidence in the future of Pakistan. A fully functional and effective National Assembly, which includes an efficient opposition, is sine qua non for the forceful and smooth running of the legal, constitutional, and parliamentary affairs, enabling the country to deliver long-awaited socio-economic development to the people.
For the legislature to deliver, the increasing anger at the highest level of politics must cease immediately. A way must be found to bring civility, consensus on national issues, and a bipartisan approach to issues of critical importance to the country. I would not be out of place to suggest here that for Pakistan to move forward, our politicians and institutions need to de-learn and re-learn the etiquettes and imperatives of democracy.
Needless to say that any unconstitutional move by any one of the institutions would have disastrous effects on the security, internal stability, economy and international standing of Pakistan.
With the world going through a political, strategic, and economic flux that has deep implications for us, we cannot afford to go through lengthy sanctions and international isolation phases. Against speculations rife that in case of further deterioration in the country, the military establishment may be tempted to take over the reins of power, I strongly feel that the days of martial law are over, and the military is smart enough to recognize it.
the Author is a retired diplomat with over 37 years of distinguished service in the Foreign Service of Pakistan. During her career, she held key positions, including Ambassador to China, the European Union, Ireland. She also served as Deputy Head of Mission to China and Denmark. With expertise in various areas, she held significant roles at the Foreign Office, including Additional Foreign Secretary for America’s and Director General Policy Planning.
In addition to her diplomatic career, she is actively engaged as Vice Chair of the Council on Global Policy and a member of the Board of Directors of First Women Bank. She serves as an advisor to the China Study Center at ISSI and Kestral International. Furthermore, she is a prolific writer, contributing regularly to esteemed magazines and newspapers. As an accomplished author, she has published several books, including “Magnificent Pakistan” and “Pakistan-China-All Weather Friendship.” Her dedication and expertise continue to impact the field of international relations. She tweets @AmbNaghmanaHash.