Pakistan 2024 General Elections: Imran Khan Disqualified, Nawaz Sharif's Comeback & Army's Influence

Pakistan 2024 General Elections: Imran Khan Disqualified, Nawaz Sharif's Comeback & Army's Influence

On the last day of 2023, the ECP announced that the former prime minister Imran Khan will not be eligible to contest the election and rejected his nomination papers.

Avinash KolheUpdated: Tuesday, January 02, 2024, 07:56 PM IST
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In December 2023, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) made announcement about the general election in Pakistan which are to be held on February 8. Since then the political life in our neighbour in the west is witnessing enormous churning what with everyday a new and sensational news hitting the media. On the last day of 2023, the ECP announced that the former prime minister Imran Khan will not be eligible to contest the election and rejected his nomination papers.

Sharif accepted but Khan rejected

Meanwhile, the same ECP has accepted former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s nomination from two constituencies, weeks after a court overturned two graft convictions. Sharif, however, still needs a life ban on holding any public office to be removed to qualify to stand, so it was not immediately clear how his nomination papers were accepted. A hearing on the ban is scheduled to be heard some times in January. Sharif was banned from running in elections in 2017 by the Supreme Court, which declared him dishonest for not disclosing income from a company owned by his son. Sharif arrived back in Pakistan in October 2022 from four years of self-imposed exile in UK. Now he bidding for fourth term of premiership.

Imran Khan, the 71-year-old founder of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), an important political party, filed nomination papers from two National Assembly constituencies Lahore (NA 122) and Mianwali (NA 89). The Returning Officers (ROs) of the ECP rejected his papers from both these constituencies. The main reason being his conviction in the Toshakhana case. In addition, objections were raised against his nomination paper as his proposer and seconder were not from the respective constituencies. Imran was ousted as prime minister in April 2022. He has not been seen in public since he was jailed for three years in August for unlawfully selling state gifts while in office from 2018 to 2022.

Imran Khan’s woes multiply every day. Last week, a high court refused to suspend his disqualification from contesting the election. Then on Thursday, December 29, 2023, the Islamabad High Court halted until January 11 his ongoing trial in the cipher case for allegedly leaking state secrets.   

It must be noted in this context that although Imran Khan’s sentence was suspended by the Islamabad High Court, his disqualification still stands. These objections were raised by Imran’s main rival political party Pakistan Muslim League Party-Nawaz’s (PML-N) Mian Naseer. Naseer referred to Imran’s five-year disqualification in the Toshakhana case wherein the electoral body had found him guilty of corrupt practices. It must also be mentioned that Imran and his senior colleague and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, vice-chairman of the PTI, have been facing multiple cases and arrests since May 9, 2023 riots. At present both are incarcerated in Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail. Like Imran, the ECP has rejected Shah’s nomination papers from Multan’s two constituencies namely NA-150 and PP-218. 

Battle of controversial former prime ministers

Pakistan observers argue, and rightly so, that the February elections will be the most challenging elections in the history of Pakistan. Here, two former and controversial prime ministers will be battling it out, directly or through proxies.  When Sharif came back to Pakistan last year, it was believed that he has Army’s support and Army will back him in preference to Imran Khan. But soon Sharif started to sing a different song. In some recent statements, he harked back to how he and his party were drummed out of power by a military-judiciary combine. These statements attracted a lot of attention. This appeared to upset the applecart. However both, the Army and Nawaz Sharif, agree on one point: they must keep Imran Khan out of power.

As is expected in such situations, Sharif’s controversial statements got more eyeballs in India compared to Pakistan. This is obvious for some reason, main being that the Pak media is tightly controlled and unpalatable news are often filtered out. But we are now living in the age of social media when different opinions were expressed without fear or favour.

What is intriguing is the statements from senior politician and three times prime minister like Nawaz who knows only too well that in Pakistan, Army matters a lot and have the final say. It is obvious for quite some time that Nawaz is aiming to occupy ‘anti-Army’ space. After being ousted from power he has a running battle with the military. Any yet today it is widely believed that he has cut a deal with Army to come back to Pakistan and perhaps the fourth term of premiership too. Given this larger picture, his statements blaming military for the woes of Pakistan sound strange. If strange are the ways of life, then politics is no different. Sharif is now trying to exploit anti-army feelings latent in the country. But then here he in strong competition with Imran Khan who is cooling his heels in prison. Imran, and not Sharif, is the latest victim of machination of the Army.  

As Pakistan goes to poll a month from now, there are theories flowing thick and fast, the prominent being Army will wait till the last minute and then cancel/postpone the elections. Other theory being that the Army will ensure a hung house, so that they can have a say in the government. Your guess is as good or as bad as mine. Let us keep the fingers crossed and wait for the D day.

(Avinash Kolhe is a retired associate professor in Political Science, Mumbai.)

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