Pakistan parties still trying to form coalition government « Khabarhub
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Pakistan parties still trying to form coalition government


20 February 2024  

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Major political parties in Pakistan have been struggling to cobble together a coalition government nearly two weeks after the controversy-marred national elections produced no clear winner.

The political party of former Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), held a fresh meeting Monday with the Pakistan Peoples Party, (PPP) led by former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition.

The talks between the two traditional ruling parties, bitter rivals of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) began last week after PML-N nominated Sharif to become prime minister again, and Zardari announced conditional support for his candidacy, saying the PPP would not join the government nor take Cabinet posts.

PML-N, which is believed to be favored by the military, and PPP have both won 75 and 54 seats, respectively. However, dozens of the seats are being legally challenged by rival parties.

A group of independent candidates backed by jailed former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s PTI, are leading, with at least 93 seats out of 266 up for grabs in the 336-seat lower house of parliament but not enough to form a governing majority.

The remaining 70 seats in the legislative assembly are reserved for women and religious minorities and are allocated based on political parties’ proportional representation in the election results.

Khan’s party alleges a state-orchestrated electoral fraud deprived it of a parliamentary majority. Otherwise, it would have 180 seats, allegations that government officials deny.

Sharif formed a coalition government with the PPP and became the prime minister for the first time after a vote of no-confidence removed Khan from office in April 2022 after a falling out with the military leadership. However, the Sharif administration failed to effectively govern and address the economic challenges he inherited.

PTI announced Monday that all of its backed, successful independent candidates would join a smaller parliamentary religious group, known as the Sunni Ittehad Council, to enable the party to claim its share of reserved seats in the National Assembly. Candidates who win elections without a party platform are not allocated reserved seats.

While addressing a joint news conference with the PTI leadership in Islamabad, the leader of the religious party, Hamid Raza, said that both parties had signed a memorandum and that all directions would come from Khan.

Critics have warned that even if Sharif’s party succeeds in forming a coalition government, Khan’s massive public support suggested Pakistanis are fed up with the military’s intervention in politics to facilitate family-run parties like PPP and PML-N to return to power time and again.

“After the most controversial elections since 1977, What Next?” Senator Mushahid Hussain, a veteran influential PML-N politician, said on social media platform X.

Hussain urged his party’s leadership to respect the PTI mandate as the largest single parliamentary group and warned that “any hotchpotch patchwork coalition won’t work and will be a recipe for disaster, similar to the tragic aftermath of flawed 1977 polls!”

The senator referred to the chaos and violence that followed the rigged vote in 1977 and allowed the military to seize power to rule Pakistan for the next decade or so.

Khan, 71, has been in jail since August on a series of controversial charges, including corruption, leaking state secrets while in office, and having a fraudulent marriage, barring him from contesting the polls.

The legal challenges were part of a military-backed crackdown on his party that detained PTI leaders, raided their homes and harassed female relatives, forcing many to quit the part or politics altogether. Mainstream media came under censorship orders allegedly from the military to avoid mentioning Khan’s name on air.

The critical blow came just weeks before the elections when Pakistan’s election commission, in a widely criticized decision, banned PTI from using its iconic cricket bat symbol on the ballot paper in a county where more than 40% of the population is illiterate and voters rely on electoral symbols to identify their candidates.

Censorship

Meanwhile, social media users across the country largely remained cut off from X for a second day on Monday in the aftermath of widespread protests of alleged vote-rigging in the February 8 polls and allegations that the results were manipulated to help pro-military parties.

NetBlocks, an independent watchdog tracking global cybersecurity and internet governance, confirmed what it said was the latest “national-scale disruption” in the country of about 241 million people.

“Metrics show X/Twitter has now been restricted in #Pakistan for over 48 hours as concerns mount over election fraud; authorities have failed to provide a lawful basis for the measure, which violates the public’s fundamental right to free expression at a critical moment,” NetBlocks said on X.

Government officials have refused to comment on the social media disruption. Pakistani authorities also suspended nationwide mobile phone and internet services on election day over terrorism threats, fueling vote-tampering suspicions and drawing an international backlash.

The internet disruptions Saturday — occurring shortly after a top bureaucrat publicly confessed to helping manipulate election results in five districts under his supervision — gave credence to allegations of vote fraud.

Liaqat Ali Chatha, commissioner of Rawalpindi Division, where the military is also headquartered, told reporters in his office that he was resigning from his post and turning himself in to police custody.

Chatha accused Pakistan’s chief election commissioner and the chief justice of orchestrating the electoral wrongdoing, charges that both denied. A high-level investigation has since been launched.

Pakistan’s interim Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, apparently responding to criticism of top government functionaries over their alleged interference in the disputed elections, warned that such a campaign was a breach of law.

Kakar’s office quoted him as saying in a statement that “some elements” were “using different tricks, including the weaponization of social media in blackmailing and pressurizing civil servants to switch their loyalties from the state of Pakistan to the violent gang.”

The prime minister did not elaborate and added, “The state of Pakistan shall defend the civil servants in discharging their constitutional duties, act against these violent trolls and ensure exemplary punishment to them.”

Critics said pro-democracy activists in Pakistan had been using X and other social media platforms to get around sweeping media censorship in the lead-up to, on, and after the February 8 vote.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, or HRCP, also criticized the government for blocking internet access, saying such actions “bleed online businesses and comers” at a time when the national economy is already struggling.

“It also infringes on people’s right to democratic decision-making, information, and expression. This practice must stop immediately,” the HRCP said in a post on X.

VOA

Publish Date : 20 February 2024 08:13 AM

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