And the winner is … : We may already know the results of Pakistan elections – Times of India

NEW DELHI: On Sunday, as Bangladeshis turned out to vote in the 12th general elections, the exercise appeared to be nothing but a mere formality. Incumbent Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had virtually secured victory even before a single vote was cast as opposition parties had decided to boycott the elections.
Similarly, the elections in Pakistan a month from now could also be a foregone conclusion, but due to different reasons.
Former prime minister and PML(N) leader Nawaz Sharif, who returned to Pakistan last year, looks set for a victory despite his embattled successor Imran Khan‘s soaring popularity. The decks for him were cleared on Monday when a Pakistani court abolished lifetime bans on convicted leaders from contesting polls, thus allowing Nawaz to fight the February 8 elections.
But unlike Hasina who contested an election sans opposition in Bangladesh, Sharif does face a stiff contest from PTI and even former ally PPP.
However, Nawaz has an ace in the hole that his rivals lack: the “Establishment’s” support.
Despite having a tumultous relationship with the all-powerful army in the past, Nawaz Sharif now appears to have the military’s support going into the February 8 polls.
Though the PML(N) founder may be filling up the vaccum left behind by former PM Imran Khan, who fell out of favour with the military in 2022, there’s no denying that Nawaz’s prospects of winning the polls have increased manifold with the army firmly by his side.
Notably, even his return to the country was said to be facilitated by the Pakistani army.
On the other hand, despite being the masses’ pick — as illustrated by various opinion polls — Imran Khan has his back to the wall ahead of the elections.
Several PTI leaders are either under arrest or have abandoned Khan after a crack down against them.
Imran himself cannot contest the elections since his nomination papers were rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan on “moral grounds”.
That’s because Khan is facing a litany of legal cases ever since he was ousted from power in 2022.
Additionally, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, PTI’s senior vice president, has also been declared ineligible to contest the elections, facing rejection of his appeal against the rejection of nomination papers for multiple constituencies.
Even though Imran is pulling out all the stops to reach out to his supporters, including using Artificial Intelligence from jail for campaigning, the PTI chief appears to be increasingly skeptic about the upcoming elections, warning they might be a farce.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) head Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, who is the party’s prime minister candidate, also does not appear to have a shot at power as he is neither a fan favourite nor the military’s.
A poll conducted by Gallup found that a plurality of voters said they would vote for PML and not PPP, if Imran Khan’s PTI did not participate in the elections.
In a recent article in Dawn, Pakistani writer Zahid Hussain noted that former PM Nawaz Sharif has been the major beneficiary of the establishment’s “new game plan” in Pakistan.
“Given how the entire system can be manipulated, his quick acquittal by the judiciary in all the cases against him has not come as a surprise,” Hussain said.
He said the kind of brazen distortion of the electoral process witnessed in Pakistan has never been seen in the past, even under military governments.
“It is evident that [Nawaz’s] his ouster from power and conviction were part of a plot by the same forces that now seem to be backing his party in the elections,” Hussain wrote, adding that PML(N) seems assured of returning to power.
With the military determined to keep Imran out of power and PPP struggling to rally enough support, a victory for Nawaz Sharif’s party now appears more or less imminent.

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