Pakistan’s upcoming election is mired in controversy.
The lead-up to the general elections on 25 July has been marred by fears of poll-rigging, pre-election violence (one attack in Balochistan province was responsible for the deaths of over 128 people) and the recent arrest of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was disbarred from office in 2017 over allegations of corruption.
Muhammed Kavesh, who recently completed his PhD on Pakistan at the School of Culture History and Language at ANU College of Asia and the Pacfic, explains.
Among the turmoil, he says, it boils down to a “strong contest” between two major parties: the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League (PMLN) – led by the brother of the disgraced Nawaz Sharif – and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by the household icon, Imran Khan, famous for his role as team captain during Pakistan’s victory in the 1992 Cricket World Cup.
“On the international level, international media and international analysts will tell you that Nawaz Sharif’s party is best for Pakistan’s future,” Kavesh says. “PMLN is a strong party, and they have a [political] base spanning three or four decades.”
Kavesh said the PMLN is considered desirable by many because of Prime Minister Sharif’s recent steps towards a rapprochement with India, starting with his attendance at current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration in 2014.
“Pakistan’s neighbours, particularly India, will be wanting Sharif to win…even if he’s not leading the party anymore,” Kavesh says, referring to the 2017 ruling by the Pakistani Supreme Court which prevents Nawaz Sharif from re-assuming leadership.
“On the other hand,” Kavesh says, “Imran Khan has support from the establishment and from various religious groups” – both major players in the history of Pakistan’s politics.
“Outside analysts, sitting in America and other countries, think that if Imran Khan wins…he will be a kind of puppet to the military establishment and security agencies.”
Imran Khan has also demonstrated anti-American and anti-Indian sentiment in his speeches, further explaining his lack of popularity with international observers.
To Kavesh, however, this negative sentiment towards Imran Khan and the PTI is not echoed by locals.
“If you see on a local level, in Pakistan, many people think that Imran Khan is best because he is a new person, a charismatic personality, bringing change and anti-corruption...He hasn’t been in power before and many people expect that he will bring new changes to the country. People think that he will deliver.”
“So there are two opinions,” Kavesh says, “one is outsiders' opinions and one is insiders or locals. It will be interesting to see how things unpack.”
By CAP Student Correspondent Georgie Juszczyk