Campaign posters for Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, along a street ahead of Pakistan’s national election in Lahore, Pakistan, on Friday, February 2, 2024.
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Pakistan’s former prime minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday declared victory in the country’s 2024 general election, which many Pakistanis and human rights groups denounce as neither free nor fair.
Sharif, 74, quoted the Election Commission of Pakistan as saying that his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), won the largest share of the nationwide vote. According to several media reports, independent candidates, supported by imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan, were actually in the lead halfway through the vote count.
Polls closed at 5 p.m. local time on Thursday after election day was marked by militant attacks and allegations of electoral misconduct. There were long delays in the counting of votes as the electoral commission ordered the immediate publication of the results in the early hours of Friday morning after a wait of more than ten hours.
Men wait their turn to cast their votes at a polling station during the general election in Karachi, Pakistan, February 8, 2024.
Akhtar Soomro | Reuters
The election, whose voting began on the morning of February 8, comes at a particularly turbulent time for the country of 240 million people. Pakistan is known for its decades of volatile politics with killings, imprisonments and military coups. Now it is in an economic crisis and its largest party has been barred from running in the elections.
The country’s leadership contest in 2024 is “certainly one of the most obvious when it comes to the level of military interference,” Pramit Pal Chaudhuri, South Asia practice leader at Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Thursday.
“Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will almost certainly win,” Chaudhuri said as the polls opened. “But it will appear to the general public as a remarkably illegitimate government.”
A poll worker instructs a woman as she casts her vote at a polling station during the general election in Karachi, Pakistan, February 8, 2024.
Akhtar Soomro | Reuters
Sharif, who has served as Pakistan’s prime minister three times in 1990, 1997 and 2013, returned from his self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom last year after a long-running battle with the country’s powerful military, which plays a crucial role in the country’s politics Landes plays, had settled. A lifetime ban for Sharif from participating in politics and multiple corruption convictions were overturned by Pakistani courts last year. While in prison, he took part in the country’s last parliamentary elections.
Pakistan’s Interior Ministry announced Thursday that it would cut cell phone service across the country and close Pakistan’s land borders due to the security situation. The former measure, analysts say, is likely intended to stifle coordination between opposition candidates.
Recent dramatic developments included the conviction just over a week earlier of Imran Khan, the former Pakistani prime minister long considered the favorite to win the election.
Khan, 71, was sentenced to multiple prison terms – one of 10 years and one of 14 years – for bribery and leaking state secrets, which he denies. At the weekend he was also sentenced to seven years in prison for illicit marriage.
Khan was removed from office by the country’s judiciary in 2022 over corruption allegations and has repeatedly said that efforts against him were the work of political opponents.
A former captain of the Pakistan national cricket team, Khan remains a hugely popular figure domestically. His political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), is the country’s largest and was recently barred from participating in the election in a crackdown.
Khan urged his supporters to “turn out in their millions on election day and defeat the planners,” and the party is fielding candidates who will run as independents, even though they failed to gather the numbers needed to form a government.
Analysts and ordinary Pakistanis say the country’s political reality is dictated by its army, without whose blessing no elected leader can survive for long.
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After enjoying the military’s support during his initial rise to power, Khan and the feared institution later fell out, which many in the country believe is the reason for the former leader’s downfall and arrest.
Videos posted on social media by opposition parties, including Khan’s party, appeared to show the destruction and theft of ballot boxes and long lines of voters who had not cast their votes by the time polls closed. CNBC has not independently verified the footage.
Correction: Imran Khan is 71. An earlier version misstated his age.