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February 2024: PTI-aligned independents projected to win the most seats in parliamentary election

On 8 February 2024, Pakistan held parliamentary elections for all 336 seats in the National Assembly. Independents aligned with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Pakistan Movement for Justice, PTI) party, led by the former Prime Minister Imran Khan, appear to have won the largest number of the 266 directly elected seats.

This briefing focuses on political developments in Pakistan from April 2022, when Imran Khan was removed as Prime Minister in a vote of confidence, up to the election in February 2024.

A briefing on the election itself will be forthcoming.

April 2022: Imran Khan removed as Prime Minister

Imran Khan was ousted as Prime Minister in April 2022 after losing a vote of no-confidence. His PTI party had come into office for the first time in 2018 after winning the most seats in that year’s election, as part of a coalition.

Mr Khan lost the support of his coalition partners after rising inflation and other economic problems seriously affected living standards in the country. He was also reported to have fallen out with the country’s military leadership, who maintain a powerful influence over the country’s politics. The support of the military is also partly credited to have brought the PTI to power in 2018.

The new Prime Minister was Shehbaz Sharif, leader of the PML-N party, who had formed a coalition when in opposition called the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) with the PPP, their traditional rivals, and other small parties. This PDM coalition formed the new government.

October 2022: Khan retains popular support but convicted on corruption charges

Despite the economic problems in Pakistan and his removal from office, Imran Khan still maintained popular appeal and a large, dedicated core of supporters. He held mass rallies in the months after his ousting and campaigned for early elections (elections were not due until October 2023). The PDM government refused to bring them forward.

In October 2022 the Electoral Commission of Pakistan (ECP), disqualified Imran Khan from standing for election for five years because they said he had broken the law by selling gifts that he had received while prime minister.

The ECP also barred Imran Khan from parliament, forcing him to vacate his seat in the National Assembly.

November 2022: Khan injured in shooting, blames the military

On 3 November 2022 a gunman opened fire on a convoy carrying Imran Khan, wounding him in the lower leg and killing a supporter. The day after the shooting Imran Khan accused the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and military officials of being behind the attempt on his life. Both strongly denied any involvement.

January 2023: PTI dissolve provincial assemblies to try and force elections

In January 2023 Imran Khan dissolved the two provincial assemblies his party controlled in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces, in order to hold provincial elections, he judged he would win. He hoped this move would help build political momentum ahead of the national elections and prove the unpopularity of the ruling PDM coalition.

The regional governors, who were chosen by the PDM government, did not set dates for the provincial elections, and the ECP did not start organising them saying they could not do so without the authorisation of the governors.

The country’s President, Arif Alvi of the PTI, intervened, unilaterally setting election dates, citing the constitutional requirement for elections to be held after the dissolving of the assemblies, and his role to uphold the constitution.

The Supreme Court then ruled that the ECP must set dates for the elections. The ECP at first complied, but then postponed them again citing security concerns and a lack of funding.

The PDM government, angry at what they perceived as political interference by the Supreme Court, passed legislation limiting the powers of its Chief Justice to unilaterally intervene in certain legal issues. The Court has barred the legislation from being implemented while it examines its constitutionality.

May 2023: Khan convicted of corruption sparking violent protests

As well as facing charges of corruption, Imran Khan is being investigated in a growing number of other legal cases. It was reported in July 2023 these numbered over 150. The former Prime Minister said these were all part of a political campaign to prevent him and his party from holding office again.

On 9 May 2023, while in court on charges relating to corruption, Imran Khan was arrested in relation to another legal case. His arrest sparked mass protests across the country by his supporters, which turned violent in some places, with clashes with the police leading to several deaths. Unprecedently some protestors attacked military buildings, and the residence of a senior army general was ransacked in Lahore. Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial governments requested the military deploy personnel to help restore order.

May-June 2023: PTI supporters and senior leaders jailed

Hundreds of PTI supporters were arrested in the aftermath of the violent protests, and some were handed over to be tried in military courts.

Among those arrested were several senior PTI leaders including former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and PTI Secretary General Asad Umar.

In the weeks following their arrests, a number of these leaders announced they were resigning from their posts and leaving politics. It was reported that these politicians had been forced to step down, with one individual claiming anonymously to the Guardian they had been tortured by the military while in custody and threatened until they agreed to leave the party.

August 2023: Elections postponed to redraw constituency boundaries

The country’s parliament was dissolved in early August this year, a few days before the end of its five-year term. This meant that as per the country’s constitution, elections should have been held within 90 days of dissolution. However, the PDM government announced a few days before parliament was dissolved that it wanted the constituency boundaries for the election to be based on the most recent census conducted earlier in 2023. The ECP said it would take around four months to complete the re-drawing of the constituencies, and so the elections would have to be delayed. A caretaker government is currently running the country.

November 2023: Elections scheduled for February 2024 and Nawaz Sharif corruption convictions overturned

In September, the ECP said that elections would be held in the last week of January 2024. There were concerns that an exact date hadn’t been set and that the elections may be delayed again, with some citing the precedent of the provincial elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that were never held despite the insistence of the Supreme Court and the President.

Concerns were also raised about the fairness of the upcoming elections and the security and safety of voters with terrorist organisations having targeted previous polls.

On 2 November the ECP announced that the election date would now be 8 February 2024.

Former three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of the PML-N party, brother of Shehbaz Sharif, returned to Pakistan after four years in London. Nawaz Sharif was convicted and imprisoned on two charges of corruption in 2018 but was given leave to travel to the UK for medical treatment. On his return he launched legal challenges to his convictions, and within several weeks both were quashed and the bar on his running for political office removed. Critics suggested a deal with the country’s military was behind his return and the swift reversal of his legal fortunes.

January 2024: PTI loses court case on election symbol

In January 2024, the PTI lost a legal appeal in the Supreme Court against a December 2023 order by the ECP that they hadn’t held free and fair internal party elections as mandated by law. This meant the PTI candidates could not use the party’s traditional cricket bat symbol on ballot papers (important in areas where there is low literacy), and that the candidates would have to stand as independents. This latter condition meant the PTI would be prevented from gaining reserved seats in the National Assembly, 266 of the 336 parliamentary seats are directly elected, but 60 are reserved for women and 10 for non-Muslims. These seats are allotted by the proportion of votes gained by each party in the different Provinces.

January 2024: Khan given lengthy sentences in two legal cases

In the last two days of January, Imran Khan was convicted in two legal cases. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail for leaking state secrets, and then to 14 years, alongside his wife Bushra Bibi, for illegally selling state gifts. Mr Khan was also banned for 10 years from holding political office. Mr Khan claimed the trials, held just over a week before the elections, were being rushed and his lawyers were not able to cross-examine witnesses.

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