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Pakistan’s election: Who’s running, what’s the mood and will anything change?

Pakistan’s election: Who’s running, what’s the mood and will anything change?

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Pakistan's election: Who's running, what's the mood and will anything change?

 Pakistan’s 127 million voters get to elect a new parliament on Thursday. The elections are the twelfth in the country’s 76-year history, which has been marred by economic crises, military takeovers and martial law, militancy, political upheavals and wars with India. 

Forty-four political parties are vying for a share of the 266 seats that are up for grabs in the National Assembly, or the lower house of parliament, with an additional 70 seats reserved for women and minorities.

After the election, the new parliament chooses a prime minister. If no party wins an outright majority, then the one with the biggest share of assembly seats can form a coalition government.

WHO IS IN THE RACE?

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Pakistani politics are dominated by men and three parties: the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The top contender is PML-N and on its ballot are two former prime ministers, Nawaz Sharif and his younger brother Shehbaz Sharif.

Their ally the PPP, led by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, a member of a political dynasty, has a power base in the country’s south. Though it’s unlikely to get enough votes to get him the premiership, he could still be part of a Sharif-led coalition government.

However, it is the absence from the ballot of PTI’s founder, cricket legend turned politician, that’s at the forefront of public discourse in Pakistan.

Though it’s become the norm for corruption allegations and court cases to dog prime ministers — many of Pakistan’s leaders have been arrested, disqualified or ousted from office – the intensity of the legal action against the PTI founder is unprecedented.

He is in prison and with four criminal convictions so far, three of them handed down last week, he is barred from running in elections or holding public office. He’s been sentenced to three, 10, 14 and seven years, to be served concurrently, and has more than 150 other legal cases pending against him. His party says it’s not getting a fair chance to campaign.

Smaller, religious political parties that appeal to a section of the conservative Muslim country have no chance of getting a majority but could still be part of a coalition government.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN ISSUES?

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The next government will have a long to-do list: fixing the economy, improving relations with the neighbouring Taliban-run Afghanistan, repairing crumbling infrastructure and resolving year-round power outages. Last but not least is containing religious and separatist militant groups.

Pakistan has been relying on bailouts to prop up its foreign exchange reserves and avoid default, with the International Monetary Fund and wealthy allies like China and Saudi Arabia financing the country to the tune of billions of dollars. The IMF, which last July approved a much-awaited $3 billion bailout, has warned of sustained high inflation this year, around 24%, and a rise in poverty levels.

Like many others, Pakistanis grapple with a soaring cost of living. They endure gas outages overnight and hourslong electricity blackouts — no government has so far been able to resolve the power crisis.

Ties with Afghanistan and its Taliban rulers nosedived after Pakistan began arresting and deporting foreigners living in the country illegally, including around 1.7 million Afghans. The two neighbors regularly blame each other for cross-border militant attacks and skirmishes often close key crossings.

Pakistan was devastated by floods in the summer of 2022 that killed 1,700 people, at one point submerging a third of the country and causing billions of dollars in damage. According to the UK-based Islamic Relief charity, only an estimated 5% of damaged and destroyed homes have been fully rebuilt.

The Pakistani Taliban, or Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, are again waging war to overthrow the government and impose an Islamic caliphate. In the southwest, the Baloch separatists want independence and a greater share of resources.

WHAT’S THE MOOD LIKE?

Most Pakistanis are fed up after years of political infighting and no improvements in their living standards. People on the street are quick to tell you they don’t believe things will be different after this election.

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The PTI founder’s disqualification from running has infuriated his supporters, who have pledged to show their loyalty at the ballot box. But the intense legal and security crackdown on him and his followers may have worn them down.

Also, there is no guarantee that PTI voters will turn out in sufficient numbers to give the party a win — or that their votes will be fairly counted. The Foreign Ministry says there will be 92 international election observers, including from the European Union and foreign embassies.

Another factor shaping public sentiment is the return last October of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who came back to Pakistan after four years in self-imposed exile abroad to avoid serving prison sentences at home.

Within weeks of his return, his convictions were overturned, leaving him free to seek a fourth term in office. Despite the years of controversies, he enjoys immense popularity and seems to have a pretty straight path to the premiership.

The sharp contrast in the treatment of the two front-runners – Sharif, with his speedy and smooth comeback, and the PTI founder, with his seemingly insurmountable legal hurdles – have led many to believe Sharif’s win is all but certain.

Rights groups say the election is unlikely to be free or fair. Experts have warned that all the political shenanigans underway since the PTI founder’s 2022 ouster have fueled anti-establishment sentiment.

That in turn has fed a growing apathy among voters and threatens a low turnout, which would further undermine the credibility of the election. Amid the discontent and divisions, getting a strong coalition to agree on and work for meaningful changes in Pakistan will be difficult. 

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Musadik Malik emphasises adoption of environment-friendly technology for sustainable development

Musadik Malik emphasises adoption of environment-friendly technology for sustainable development

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Musadik Malik emphasises adoption of environment-friendly technology for sustainable development

 Federal Minister for Petroleum Musadik Malik underscores the need for embracing environment-friendly technology to ensure sustainable development in Pakistan. 

In a recent address at a ceremony held in Islamabad, Minister Malik highlighted the pressing issue of environmental instability, noting that despite a purported zero carbon footprint, Pakistan was grappling with the adverse effects of climate change. 

He pointed to alarming indicators such as rising global temperatures and increased incidents of extreme weather events, including flash floods in Sindh that have devastated numerous villages, exacerbating food insecurity in the region. 

Acknowledging the dual challenge of environmental and economic instability, Minister Malik stressed the imperative for concerted action to address these issues. 

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He revealed that Pakistan’s total exports stand at $30 billion, with energy exports comprising a significant portion at $20 billion. 

To confront these challenges head-on, Minister Malik announced plans to ramp up petroleum products production, citing its critical role in ensuring energy security and fostering economic growth. 

He outlined various policies aimed at facilitating this increase, including incentivising consortiums for small companies and fostering cooperation with international stakeholders.

Underlining the centrality of energy security to economic development, Minister Malik reiterated the importance of adopting environment-friendly technologies to meet the nation’s energy demands sustainably.

He emphasised the utilisation of national resources as a key strategy in this endeavour.

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Islamabad police register case of armed assault on PTI leader Raoof Hasan

Islamabad police register case of armed assault on PTI leader Raoof Hasan

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Islamabad police register case of armed assault on PTI leader Raoof Hasan

A day after unidentified transgender persons armed with blades wounded PTI leader Raoof Hasan in an attack in Islamabad, police on Wednesday registered a case of the assault. 

The case registered against unidentified transgender persons at the Aabpara police station includes sections related to the charges of attempted murder and death threats. 

According to the first information report (FIR), Raoof Hasan was heading to a parking lot after participating in a TV talk show when he was ambushed by three transgender-like persons. 

The FIR details that these attackers tried to cut his throat with a sharp-edged tool. Hasan suffered a cut in the face when he stepped back in a bid to protect himself, it adds. 

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In the FIR, Raoof Hasan alleged that a similar attack was attempted on him two days back in Islamabad’s Blue Area. 

The PTI information secretary was attacked on Tuesday afternoon by some unidentified transgender persons with a blade in Islamabad’s G-7 area. He suffered a cut in the face.

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JAP urges Punjab governor to return defamation bill unapproved

JAP urges Punjab governor to return defamation bill unapproved

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JAP urges Punjab governor to return defamation bill unapproved

The Judicial Activism Panel has penned a letter to Punjab Governor Sardar Salim Haider Khan, vehemently urging him not to approve the controversial Punjab Defamation Bill 2024 recently passed by the Punjab Assembly. 

The letter, authored by the Judicial Activism Panel, highlighted grave concerns over the Defamation Bill, asserting that its passage by the Punjab Assembly contradicts the principles outlined in Article 19 of the constitution. 

According to the panel, the enforcement of this bill poses a significant threat to the freedom of speech, a fundamental right guaranteed to every citizen. 

The panel argued that the implementation of the Defamation Bill would severely restrict the public’s access to vital information, serving as a formidable obstacle to the citizens’ right to information. 

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They emphasised that the bill, if enacted, would curtail the freedom of speech, thereby violating the fundamental right of the citizens.

Expressing apprehension, the letter said the law could potentially be exploited to serve political interests, further undermining the democratic principles upon which the nation is built.

In their fervent plea to Governor Sardar Salim Haider Khan, the Judicial Activism Panel demanded that he refrain from approving the bill and instead return it to the Punjab Assembly without his endorsement.

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