Pakistan polls 2024: A tragicomic spectacle

| Updated: 09 February, 2024 4:41 pm IST
Pakistan: A tragicomedy of electoral farce.

NEW DELHI: In the annals of political theatre, Pakistan’s 2024 election will likely be remembered as a tragicomedy of epic proportions. The spectacle unfolds against a backdrop of repression, manipulation, and farcical manoeuvres, leaving the nation’s democracy hanging by a thread.

At first glance, Pakistani officials are keen to portray an image of normalcy, extolling the virtues of a free and fair electoral process. They tout the meticulous printing and distribution of millions of ballot papers and welcome international observers with open arms.

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Anwar ul Haq Kakar, head of Pakistan’s caretaker government tasked with election preparations, remarked on Tuesday, “Now, it’s the people of Pakistan’s turn to exercise their democratic right to vote.” Yet, beneath this veneer of democracy lies a grotesque distortion of the electoral playing field.

The main protagonist in this drama, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party led by former Prime Minister Imran Khan, finds himself shackled by legal machinations and heavy-handed tactics. Stripped of its cricket-bat symbol and with key leaders languishing in jail, the PTI faces an uphill battle for relevance. The irony is stark: in a nation striving for democratic ideals, dissent is stifled, opposition silenced, and the very fabric of democracy torn asunder.

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Meanwhile, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by the resilient Nawaz Sharif, emerges as the favoured contender—a curious twist given Sharif’s tumultuous history with the military establishment.

Sharif’s relationship with the military is fraught with tension and discord. While he may have once enjoyed the military’s patronage on his path to power, his tenure as Prime Minister was marked by repeated clashes and confrontations with the establishment.

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Sharif’s history of defiance and independence has earned him a reputation as a maverick within Pakistan’s political landscape. Unlike some of his counterparts who have readily acquiesced to military influence, Sharif has consistently challenged the status quo, refusing to be the pliant premier that the military often prefers. Therefore, his return from exile, unscathed by corruption charges, hints at shadowy alliances and backroom deals that typify Pakistani politics.

The military’s shifting allegiances—from Khan’s erstwhile champion to Sharif’s potential benefactor—reflect a cynical calculus that prioritises power over principle. Yet, this Faustian pact risks creating fresh turmoil in a nation already teetering on the brink of instability.

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Caught in the crossfire are Pakistan’s 128 million eligible voters, their voices drowned out by the cacophony of political manoeuvring. The turmoil gripping Pakistan extends far beyond the recent spate of election-related violence, which claimed the lives of at least 22 people in two separate attacks in Balochistan province on Wednesday. The tragic irony of a nation besieged by terrorism, economic woes, and escalating border tensions with neighbouring Iran and Afghanistan is compounded by a farcical electoral charade that offers little hope for redemption.

Amidst the chaos, there are no heroes, only flawed actors playing their parts on a stage set for tragedy. The military, the courts, and the political elite all share culpability in perpetuating a cycle of dysfunction and despair.

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Yet, amidst the gloom, a flicker of defiance emerges from the PTI camp. Despite facing insurmountable odds, they refuse to yield to despair, rallying their supporters with a blend of technology and tenacity. Theirs is a quixotic quest for justice in a landscape dominated by powerbrokers and opportunists.

As Pakistan’s electoral drama draws to a close, the nation confronts a sobering reality: the promise of democracy betrayed by the farce of politics. In this tragicomedy of errors, the joke is on Pakistan—and its people are left to pick up the pieces of a shattered dream.

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