Pakistan elections: A win for the people, a blow to the establishment

Pakistan elections: A win for the people, a blow to the establishment
The military did everything in its power to extinguish popular support for Imran Khan and PTI. But the Pakistani people voted in defiance, writes Ifra Javed.
6 min read
15 Feb, 2024
Despite allegations of rigging and years of repression, the people of Pakistan still made their voices heard. [Getty]

In the last few years, Pakistan’s military clampdown may have been successful in keeping the Pakistani public out of the streets, but it only strengthened their resolve to answer back with their votes.

The much talked about ‘tsunami’ of followers of jailed ex-PM Imran Khan finally arrived to signal the beginning of the end of military interference and dynastic politics.

In the last two years, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf party (PTI), which enjoys widespread support from the country’s youth, has witnessed the full wrath of the state machinery, from kidnapping and illegally arresting PTI members and workers, to tear gassing and beating protestors.

After the 9th May protests in 2023, there was little hope remaining for PTI supporters as the crackdown intensified and party wickets fell one after the other.

The extent may vary, but Pakistan has witnessed unofficial military control of its politics at every turn. Although the state establishment has been resisted by various progressive and fringe groups through the decades, it was only after Khan’s ousting that this resentment began to surface as a popular sentiment.

"PTI's mostly young voter base, beaten and bruised in the last two years, was waiting for an opportunity to fight back; their votes were their weapons"

Amidst this backlash, the establishment engineered the return of three time Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif to serve as their puppet for the next term. The younger Sharif brother, who had been seeking refuge in London after losing his own head-to-head battle with the military, was presented to the public as the would be saviour of Pakistan’s economic and political crises.

The two dynastic parties, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), began their election campaigns by reiterating the same tired slogans, and brought back old dirty tricks, including cutting mobile services and trying to confuse voters.

PTI’s election symbol (a bat) was stolen and the party dismantled over mere technicalities in the intra-party polls. A population with a 59% literacy rate were denied the simplicity of stamping on a ‘bat’, and instead independent candidates contested the election with symbols varying from vegetables to crockery and household items.

With Imran Khan jailed, and PTI no longer able to contest elections as a party, the Sharif brothers grew all the more confident in their guaranteed upcoming victory. In a desperate final attempt in the week before the election, the courts sentenced Khan to 14 years in prison for the Tosha Khana corruption case, plus another 7 years after declaring his marriage un-Islamic.

Out of touch with ground realities, political commentators have often claimed that PTI is nothing without Imran Khan, and with him (along with other bigwig ‘electables’) out of the picture, the party would reach its early demise.

Discussions in the weeks before elections revolved around how big of a majority Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN would be able to bag, and what Bilawal Bhutto’s political future looked like, while almost entirely dismissing PTI’s support.

But election day was another story altogether. PTI’s mostly young voter base, beaten and bruised in the last two years, was waiting for an opportunity to fight back; their votes were their weapons.

What many failed to consider was how disillusioned the nation had become after the last two years of witnessing civil liberties erode further and further. PTI already shared popular support amongst the middle class and young voters, but it was also an appealing choice for many as the only party not enjoying deep state backing.

The night of election stunned the country as early results started coming in, putting a handsome majority of the PTI-backed candidates on top. There was a palpable excitement in the air as everyone waited with bated breaths for final results to roll in.

Cautiously the nation started to imagine the unimaginable; a rare moment in Pakistan’s history where the people defeated the generals at their own (pre-rigged) game.


The anticipation for change was rather short-lived. Later the same night, results suddenly stopped coming in leading to widespread speculation and growing apprehensions.

But instead of succumbing to the chaos that ensued, PTI urged their workers to rush to polling stations and collect signed and stamped copies of Form 45, the document tallying votes from each polling station.

As expected, the morning of 9th February saw a significant change in the results, with many seats where PTI’s independent candidates were leading now suddenly won by PMLN. Khan’s party has done more than just allege rigging; workers, along with average voters, have been collecting, tallying and digitally uploading copies of all Form 45 documents to show the discrepancies.

Despite this, PTI came out with more seats in the National Assembly than either of the two major parties, PPP and PMLN.

In almost every election in Pakistan’s history, there have been allegations of rigging. The difference we are seeing today is the will and commitment of people to fight back against all odds.

"[This election] fractured the myth that the establishment is untouchable as the public voted in big numbers not just for PTI, but also against military interference in politics"

But the military repression continues. In the days after the elections, National Democratic Movement’s Mohsin Dawar was shot while he protested the election results. The aerial police shooting also took 3 lives, while 12 political workers were injured. A similar incident took place in Shangla, where 4 PTI protesters were killed by police.

These blatant attacks on civilians and political workers are tell-tale signs that the state is struggling to hold onto its authoritarian control.

All the noise urging PTI to ‘sit down’ with rival parties (who colluded with the establishment) for the sake of democracy and stability is disregarding months of state brutality faced by the party and its supporters. If Khan was to compromise on this in a bid to hold on to power, it would disillusion his voter base, and normalise the glaring injustices in the system.

This election season has been unprecedented in more than one way. It fractured the myth that the establishment is untouchable as the public voted in big numbers not just for PTI, but also against military interference in politics.

It ushered a new era of politics without the overarching control of political dynasties and electables. And it is currently showing us the public’s dedication to safeguarding their votes.


PMLN’s blind faith in the establishment’s power to manipulate the election in their favour has cost them dearly. Now Nawaz Sharif’s face-saving victory speech or his famous ‘do you love me’ chants cannot undo what has transpired.

The party’s popularity took a turn for the worse during the PMLN-PPP coalition in the aftermath of the vote of no confidence against Khan, and forming an unpopular federal government right now may well be the last nail in their coffin.

The political landscape is currently shrouded in uncertainty; PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar has denied any intention of engaging with PPP and PMLN, while discussions between the Bhutto’s and the Sharif’s hint toward a revival of the deeply unpopular PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) coalition.

The struggle for civilian supremacy continues but one thing is undeniable: the 2024 elections made a notable dent in the military HQ gates, the consequences of which could be far-reaching.

Ifra Javed is a London School of Economics graduate, currently working as a researcher and lecturer at the Lahore School of Economics.

Follow her on Twitter: @Ifra_J

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