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politics

Pakistan’s elections left no clear winner. And after?

It is Pakistan’s parliament that chooses the next prime minister, so having a majority is crucial.

WHO IS IN THE RACE?

Not Imran Khan. He is in prison and banned from holding public office. The PTI said it neither wanted nor needed an alliance, saying it had enough seats. This is not the case. The party enjoys public support – as shown by the number of seats won by candidates – but it lacks the support of its political peers.

Analyst Azim Chaudhry said other parties had “grievances and grudges” against Khan since his tenure and were not ready to shake his hand because he has made it clear he will not didn’t want to talk to them.

The PML-N and PPP began coalition talks once it became clear that Khan loyalists had taken the lead. They claim to have struck deals with smaller parties and new parliamentarians, including defectors from Khan’s side, to increase their seat quota to the magical majority of 169.

But it is trickier to know who could become prime minister among this motley crowd.

Party insiders say Sharif is not suited to a coalition because of his temperament. His younger brother, Shehbaz, led a coalition after Khan was ousted from power and is seen as more accommodating.

And then there is Bhutto-Zardari, a former foreign minister. It is unclear whether he will want to occupy the top post in a government that came to power thanks to such tainted elections.

But he and his party are essential to any coalition because they hold the third largest share of seats. It is not for nothing that his father, Asif Ali Zardari, is considered a kingmaker. He will not do something that would jeopardize his son’s political future, such as joining forces with Khan, according to Chaudhry.

There is a chance that an outside candidate could become prime minister to satisfy all parties, but it is hard to imagine both families abandoning their claim to power.

WHAT’S THE MOOD?

People are unhappy with the way the election was conducted and the way the votes were counted. Legal challenges are underway to contest some of the results. There are protests and allegations of electoral fraud, with Khan’s supporters particularly angry at what they perceive as electoral theft. Police used tear gas to disperse crowds and arrested dozens of people during sporadic protests that broke out across Pakistan. The international community and rights groups have expressed concern over voting irregularities.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

The Pakistani president is expected to convene the inaugural session of the new National Assembly within 21 days of the elections, on February 29. Lawmakers are sworn in during this session. They are submitting nomination papers for a number of key roles, including Speaker of the House and House Leader. Once these positions are filled, a new prime minister is elected by a parliamentary vote, a task that requires a simple majority.

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