Ballots, Battles, and Beyond: Pakistan’s 2024 Election

By Laurence Butt

In the heart of South Asia lies Pakistan, a nation of rich history, diverse cultures, and complex politics. Since its inception in 1947, Pakistan has navigated through a tumultuous journey of democracy, military rule, and political instability. Today, it stands at a critical stage, grappling with complex challenges ranging from economic woes to regional tensions, all against the backdrop of a dynamic and evolving political landscape. As the country continues to shape its future amidst internal and external pressures, understanding the intricacies of Pakistan’s political dynamics becomes imperative.

In November 2023, Khan, who was a popular political candidate who was ousted in 2018 found himself the target of an assassination attempt and was subsequently arrested by the Pakistani government on corruption charges. Many top members of his party faced similar scrutiny, viewed by their supporters as nothing short of political persecution. Khan received a five-year ban from politics, while his party was also prohibited from participating in elections for the same period. After numerous riots and accusations, calm finally descended, and many turned their gaze towards the next election as a chance for justice.

The 2024 Pakistani election was awaited with great anticipation and seen as an opportunity for change. On February 8th of this year, Pakistan held elections to select members of the 16th National Assembly, despite allegations of pre-poll rigging. “There was much speculation that the election would be decided in advance by vested interests such as the military and intelligence agencies,” said Dr. Christine Kim, Assistant Professor of International Studies at Cedarville University. “But actual election results showed that former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), founded in 2018, remain popular with voters. Despite many legal and political challenges, independent candidates from the PTI won 93 out of 336 seats in the 16th National Assembly.”

Dr. Glen Duerr, who is the Chair of the Department of History and Government and Professor of International Studies highlighted the past military incursions into Pakistan’s election process, as well their restrictive form of sharia law and rampant corruption. 

“In that sense, not much has changed,” Duerr said. “However, there is a major issue revolving around former PM Khan. that could descend Pakistan into more significant chaos.”

Khan and his party have had significant setbacks in both the political and personal sphere with assassination attempts and the outlawing of the party. The party remains divisive.

“His ascension to PM and subsequent removal have deeply divided Pakistan. He is deeply unpopular in some parts of the country due to his Western outlook and norms, some of which are very negative and narcissistic,” Duerr said. “However, the legal situation is somewhat politically motivated, reducing trust in the system among his supporters.”

Despite the setbacks, Khan and his party do have supporters and have proved popular, specific with certain demographics. 

“…Imran Khan and his party proved popular despite his party being stripped of its election symbol…  Women voters in particular actively campaigned for candidates supported by the PTI,” Kim said. “PTI has established itself as a major political force in Pakistan.”

The much-championed political reforms that appeared to have taken place, like updating electoral rolls, and introducing biometric verification systems have seemed to wear away more democratic freedom.

“The reforms have resulted in a small erosion of democratic governance in Pakistan that was not free or fair before the previous election anyway,” Duerr said. “According to Freedom House, the score from 2023 to 2024 declined from 37 (out of 100) to 35. In general, the reforms seem regressive and arbitrarily targeted at Khan. In some ways, it mirrors what has happened in American politics. There were missteps but probably not to the point of barring a candidate from holding office.

Fortunately, religious minorities including Christians seem to escape most of the political attacks. 

“Depending on the party in power, minorities can be much better protected or much more vulnerable,” Duerr said. “In general, any party that is moderate is typically well regarded by all minorities, not just Christians, because they are better able to be free within the society.”

But that does not mean they escape all persecution.

“According to the World Watch List compiled and published annually by Open Door Ministries, Pakistan ranks seventh in the world in terms of church persecution,” Kim said. “We need to pray for those brothers and sisters in Pakistan as they have to worship Jesus in a politically unstable, economically volatile, and religiously oppressive country.”

As Pakistan grapples with internal strife and external pressures, the 2024 election represented both hope for change and uncertainty for the nation’s future. These elections have not only challenged the preconceived notions of power but also raised questions about the future of democracy in Pakistan. As the country navigates through political doubt, the resilience of its democratic institutions will be put to the test. While it certainly didn’t go as smoothly as hoped, many minority groups, including Christians, are celebrating that their voices are still heard.

Laurence Butt is a junior IT Management major and an Off Campus Reporter for Cedars. When he’s not writing articles, he enjoys hanging out with friends, spending time outdoors, and trying to be good at video games.

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