Pakistani elections: Can Imran Khan’s winning candidates form a government? | Election news
Islamabad, Pakistan – Five days after the February 8 elections, Pakistan is no closer to knowing which parties will form its next government and who its next prime minister might be.
The elections resulted in a divided state amid a cloud of questions about the fairness of the climate in which it took place, allegations of serious fraud, and challenges to the accuracy of the vote count that continued for three days.
Leading in no less than 96 seats are candidates belonging to former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, who had to run as independents without their electoral symbol, the cricket bat.
They are followed by the PML-N, which won 75 seats and is in theory the largest single party in the National Assembly, although the number is as high as 75 seats. Less than a third of the 266 seats that were up for election on February 8.
In third place comes the Pakistan People’s Party, led by former Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, which won 54 seats.
But can the PTI-backed independents form or join a government, what are the options available to the party, and what comes next for the country?
What is required to form a government?
Any party or coalition needs a simple majority of 134 seats out of 266 seats voted in the National Assembly to form the government.
A coalition can consist of multiple parties or also include independents who won their seats.
These independent candidates can either formally join a party aiming to form a government or enter into an alliance with them while retaining their individual identity.
While technically, PTI-backed independents could form the core of the government in alliance with other parties, whose support they would need to reach the 134-seat mark, such a path presents many challenges.
First, maintaining stability will be difficult. Such a government would depend on the individual whims of independent parliamentarians, making it vulnerable to defections and possible collapse.
Second, as a group of independents, the Tehreek-e-Insaf bloc will have to lose a significant portion of the 70 seats reserved for women and minorities, which are proportionally shared among the parties represented in the National Assembly.
But if PTI-backed independents join another party, they will be subject to the discipline of that parent party, which could jeopardize their ability to act in accordance with PTI’s policies and plans.
When should the government be formed after the elections?
Basil Nabi Malik, a Karachi-based lawyer, said that according to the constitution, a new session of the National Assembly must be called within three weeks of the elections.
He told Al Jazeera, “The law clearly stipulates that the National Assembly meets on the twenty-first day following the day of holding the Assembly elections unless the President of the Republic summons it urgently.”
Unless President Arif Alvi calls the session early, the 21 days will end on February 29.
On the day of the session, if the parties find their allies and agree to form a coalition, council members will be asked to vote to choose the prime minister, speaker of parliament and his deputy.
An opposition leader will also be chosen from one of the parties that decided not to sit on the treasury benches.
Which parties took this step?
In a speech on Friday from the party headquarters in Lahore, PML-N President Nawaz Sharif said that he had instructed his brother Shehbaz Sharif, who is also a former prime minister, to reach out to other political parties that won several seats in the elections, to build a political party. Ruling coalition.
The PML-N leadership has already met with its counterparts from the Pakistan People’s Party, as well as representatives of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which won 17 seats in Sindh province.
However, the parties have not announced whether they plan to go ahead with the coalition – and what the contours of any coalition might look like.
What about PTI? Will its independents join another party?
Meanwhile, the PTI movement focused on protesting the alleged manipulation of the election results.
The party’s leadership insists on canceling the actual results for a large number of its seats, depriving its candidates of victory, thus ensuring that their seats remain under the magic number of 134 seats.
Syed Zulfikar Bukhari, a senior PTI member, has categorically said that they will not cooperate with any of the major political parties.
He told Al Jazeera: “Our internal party discussions and consultations are continuing, and we have many options on the table.” “The decision to join a party will be made very soon, but it will not be one of the three or four main parties,” he added.
A total of 13 parties won at least one seat in the National Assembly elections, and six of them won one seat.
If PTI-backed candidates decide to join any other party, they must announce their decision within three days of the official notification of the result by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The European Commission has not yet announced the official result.
Is starting another party an option for PTI-backed independents?
In theory, PTI-backed independents could form a new party – although the registration process could take a few days, said Kanwar M Dilshad, former ECP secretary and analyst.
But this will not help the PTI form the government at the present time, as any new party will not be part of the current electoral process.
Malik, who is also a Supreme Court lawyer, agreed with Dilshad’s assessment: Independent candidates supported by PTI could form a new political party, but that would not affect the formation of the next government.
“It is also questionable whether such a political party, created after the elections, would enjoy the constitutional protection enjoyed by other political parties that were recruited and registered with the European Commission before the elections in question,” he added.
Abid Al-Zubairi, another senior lawyer, said independents could instead declare themselves a group of “like-minded” members. But this also cannot be considered a party.
“They can make a collective decision on parliamentary matters, but they will be treated as a group of independents, not as a party, and therefore they cannot get the share of reserved seats,” Al-Zubairi told Al Jazeera.
Can PTI regain its party symbol and status?
While party leader Imran Khan has been in prison since August 2023 and they have faced a massive state-led crackdown since at least May last year, the biggest setback they faced was the loss of their electoral symbol.
The European Communist Party accused them of violating laws related to holding internal party elections. The party claimed that this decision was aimed at reducing the party’s popularity and influence.
The party could seek compensation from the country’s Supreme Court, to overturn the ECP’s decision. But it is unclear whether a mere ruling in the party’s favor will allow party-backed independents to formally represent PTI in the new National Assembly.
“Now the PTI has to hold elections according to the letter and the spirit. But I don’t think the party will be allowed to be part of the current parliament because according to the ECP, it is non-existent as far as the results of these elections are concerned,” said Zuberi, a prominent lawyer who was also a former MP. President of the Supreme Court Bar Association.
Senator Ali Zafar, a senior PTI leader and part of their legal team, noted that the party was not confident of getting relief from the Supreme Court over the symbol.
“I feel that the symbol issue may be over now because it was for the purpose of contesting the elections. I don’t think it will have any impact on the post-election scenario. Instead, the question is now which party PTI-backed candidates join.
Malik also criticized the ECP’s original decision to remove the symbol, and said there was currently little evidence that the move might be reversed any time soon.
“We also see the lack of urgency of the Supreme Court in setting this matter down for hearing, and it may not be possible to complete this entire process before the first hearing,” he said.
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