14 minutes read


The Political Drama of February 8: Pakistan’s Rigging Episode and the Fall of Curtains on a Democratic State

From a hybrid democratic system, Pakistan has descended to an authoritarian system of governance much like the Central Asian republics and the many Mukhbara states in the Middle East. There is little hope for a transformation of Pakistan from an authoritarian system towards even a semblance of democracy.

As expected, the 12th General Elections of Pakistan held on February 8, 2024, were massively rigged by the military and delivered a hung parliament.

The PTI quickly alleged that it was deprived of a far greater mandate by widespread rigging and the manipulation of results, with its current leader Gohar Ali Khan suggesting they have evidence showing that the PTI won at least 180 seats out of 266 that were voted for. Protests continue across Pakistan, with PTI and several other parties claiming their mandates were stolen. Pakistan’s interim government has rejected international calls to investigate allegations of rigging, saying the electoral process was a sovereign internal affair.[1]

There had occurred a shutdown of cellular and internet services on election day and after. As expected, there was widespread criticism for the alleged rigging and manipulation of the election results by the military. Pakistan finds itself in crisis again. Despite lacking the numbers to form a government, Imran Khan declared victory from prison, and his supporters took to the streets and went to court to protest. The PTI made claims of wide-scale poll rigging.[2]

It has been alleged that Pakistan’s all-powerful military army has rigged the elections against Imran Khan. In several constituencies, the official vote tally differs wildly from the total arrived at by adding up numbers from individual polling stations. Both the US and the European Union have called for an investigation into allegations of interference in the electoral process. Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister called the elections “free and fair.”[3]

There was now political tension in the country as the PTI was staging nationwide protests about the alleged rigging [4]. Resultantly, the country descended into political uncertainty. Pakistan’s sovereign dollar bonds fell as much as 1.2 cents with the 2024 bond standing at 95.89 cents in the aftermath of the contentious election.[5] It was feared that political uncertainty could exacerbate economic instability. [6]

Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) has joined the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) in raising concerns over the transparency of the general elections in Pakistan.[7]

Earlier, the US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller called for an investigation of rigging allegations in the Pakistan general results held on February 8. After days of speculation and anticipation, the PMLN, and the PPP have come together to form a coalition government in the wake of the 2024 general elections, which yielded a hung parliament.

Shehbaz Sharif has emerged as the consensus candidate for the position of Prime Minister, diverging from the original plan of having Nawaz Sharif in the lead role. The PPP has agreed to support Shehbaz Sharif’s candidacy, albeit with certain conditions. The PPP is eyeing key constitutional positions of the Presidency, Senate chair, and National Assembly speakership, with the backing of the PMLN. The coalition’s strength will face a litmus test in Parliament, where they must secure enough votes for their government to be legitimized.

This new iteration of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) includes leaders from six parties, including defections from independent candidates backed by the PTI. Some of these individuals have already switched allegiance to join the Sharifs’ camp. As it stands, the coalition formed by Shehbaz Sharif has amassed a total of 152 general seats. However, with his party holding only 75 out of the 336 seats in the National Assembly, a significant gap remains to achieve a majority.[8]

On February 16, 2024, PTI senior leader Barrister Gohar Ali Khan said Omar Ayub Khan would be the party’s candidate for the office of Prime Minister and Mian Aslam Iqbal for the slot of Punjab Chief Minister. Gohar said the party was confident of Omar Ayub’s election as prime minister and that he would stay until Imran was released. He said the PTI which was in all the provinces and had a two-thirds majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, was being limited and a party having zero credibility and barely 20 seats was being given power. The people will not accept such a mandate. Gohar said his party had announced a peaceful protest of the alleged rigging and invited all parties, including Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Jamaat-e-Islami, and GDA, to participate in it.

Asad alleged that the February 8 elections were the worst elections that had no credibility, and no one was ready to accept them. He charged that his party’s mandate had been stolen against which a protest would be held across the country, and he would try to talk to different parties in this connection. [9]

In a surprise move, Imran Khan has been desperately knocking at the doors of the US for help, which he had earlier blamed to be the major conspirators behind his ousting from the government. From Khan’s removal from the government to his arrest following the May 9 attacks and matters involving recently held elections in the country, Imran Khan has repeatedly approached the US either for his help or for its interference in the domestic politics of the country. After no-confidence in April 2021, Khan has since blamed a US-led foreign conspiracy that also involved Pakistan’s powerful military establishment and his political rivals.

Imran Khan claimed that the US “threatened” him and was seeking his removal from office as he faced a no-confidence vote that could mean the end of his premiership. However, in November 2021 Khan signalled his readiness to mend fences with the US after repeatedly accusing Washington of conspiring to remove him from power in April. Meanwhile, Khan said that the US did not fulfil its duty against the anti-PTI measures, adding that America has always patronized and imposed dictators and installed corrupt people as rulers.

Khan stressed that it was an opportunity for the US to rectify its past actions and added that the US should keep monitoring election rigging in Pakistan. Imran Khan said that it is America’s responsibility to raise its voice on the transparency of elections in Pakistan. He lamented that the US acts like the voice of democracy in the entire world, but both the US and Europe have maintained silence on rigging in the elections in Pakistan. He further said that the US should pressurize those involved in rigging instead of issuing such cosmetic statements.[10]

Meanwhile, in a surprising development, Hafiz Naeem ur Rehman of the Jamaat-e-Islami party had been named the victor of the provincial assembly seat PS-129 in the city of Karachi. But this week he claimed the candidate backed by Imran Khan’s PTI party had secured far more votes and that their tally had been reduced. He said that while he had received more than 26,000 votes, the independent candidate Saif Bari, backed by the PTI, had gotten 31,000 votes – but these were presented as 11,000 votes. Pakistani electoral authorities have denied the allegations. It is unclear who will accept the PS-129 seat now.

But the incident is just the latest, highlighting the crisis around Pakistan’s elections held earlier, which have been marred by allegations of widespread vote fraud and interference, which damaged candidates affiliated with Khan.[11] However, the PTI argues such candidates should have won even more votes and more seats. They have alleged numerous instances of vote rigging and welcomed the Islamist party’s relinquishing of the Karachi seat. Meanwhile, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller says the US has called for rigging allegations in Pakistan general elections to be investigated. [12]

Zahid Hussain in his article “Polls and their aftermath” published in Dawn on February 14, 2024, said that: [13]

It was perhaps the most consequential election in Pakistan’s recent history. Defying all odds, the voters turned out in record numbers. They have spoken aloud and clearly and given their verdict. It was a vote for hope and democracy. But the people’s mandate seems to have been stolen yet again. Events in the run-up to the elections had left little faith in the fairness of the polls. Still, the people came out, breaking down the walls of fear and hoping to bring change through the power of the ballot. The massive turnout of youth and women voters made a difference. It was a protest vote against political repression and the status quo. The anti-establishment sentiment was quite palpable…. It was a protest vote against political repression and the status quo. The large-scale poll irregularities have drawn a strong international reaction. The US, the UK, and the European Union have separately expressed concerns about Pakistan’s electoral process and urged a probe into the reported irregularities. But the most damning statement on the elections came from the UN secretary general, who called on the Pakistani authorities and political leaders to resolve the issues related to the election “through the established legal frameworks” and to refrain from taking any action that could raise tensions. It is almost unprecedented for a UN official to make such remarks on an issue generally considered to be a country’s internal matter. These statements by the international community cannot be brushed aside. They clearly show the worsening global perception of Pakistan’s democratic process. It also brings into question the alleged involvement of the security establishment in manipulating the electoral process. Its footprints could be seen all over. Despite the alleged irregularities, the PTI-backed ‘independents’ have emerged as the single largest particular group in the next National Assembly. However, since the PTI is not recognized as a parliamentary party, it cannot get its share of some 70 reserved seats for women and religious minorities. Hence, the party cannot achieve even a simple majority to form a government at the center. Moreover, it would be extremely tough for the group to maintain its unity in the face of intimidation by the security agencies and horse-trading. Meanwhile, a new power play has begun, disregarding all democratic norms. Wheeling and dealing are the name of the game. It is all about power and control that has brought together vested interests.

Omar Waraich, in his article “Angry Young Pakistanis Give Imran Khan a Future Shot at Power” published in Foreign Policy on February 12, 2024, maintained that: [14]

Immured in his prison cell, Pakistani politician Imran Khan could scarcely have hoped for a better result. Just days before the country’s Feb. 8 election, the cricket legend-turned-populist politician was sentenced to more than a decade behind bars in three trumped-up cases. His party was stripped of its signature cricket bat symbol by the Election Commission, denying voters the chance to identify the party on ballot papers—a critical aspect of voting in a country where 40 percent of people are illiterate—and forcing its candidates to run as independents. Its members were beaten, imprisoned, and driven into rival parties or out of politics altogether.

On polling day, cell phone signals vanished, and internet access was choked. After the votes were cast, there were widespread allegations that many were stolen overnight, reversing unassailable leads. And yet, despite every effort to thwart them, Khan’s supporters recorded the highest number of votes and clinched the largest number of seats…For many of these voters, Khan represented something new. In the lead-up to the 2018 election, he stirred rare feelings of national pride, something that he has proved effective at ever since lifting Pakistan’s only Cricket World Cup trophy in 1992. They liked his charisma, his religious fervor, his charity work, and his celebrity. Khan skillfully tapped this mood for change, casting himself as a man of destiny who would single-handedly sweep away the country’s many problems and suddenly lift Pakistan to the glory it deserved. There was little scrutiny of the plausibility of his promises. It was enough that someone was making them.

Michael Kugelman, in his article” How Imran Khan’s Party Stunned Pakistan,” said that “The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party won’t take power, but it capitalized on public discontent to deliver a rebuke to the establishment.” [15]

On February 19, 2024, it was announced that independent candidates backed by Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister who won seats in the elections will join the minority Sunni Ittehad Council, a political party, to form a government. Parties are allocated 70 reserved seats – 60 for women, 10 for non-Muslims – in proportion to the number of seats won. This completes the National Assembly’s total 336 seats. Independents are not eligible for reserved seats.[16]

Today, the issue of election rigging is causing political tensions in the country. An article titled “ An Election Shatters the Image of Pakistan’s Mightiest Force” published in the New York Times, on February 21, 2024,  said that “Pakistanis once thought of the military as the iron hand behind the country’s politics. That idea has been broken, threatening the establishment.” [17]

The election is now definitely controversial because of the alleged widespread rigging. The US on February 20, 2024, reiterated that claims of interference in recent general elections in Pakistan should be investigated. [18]

After the PMLN and the PPP announced the formation of a coalition government in the Centre, the PTI warned of the ‘worst political instability’ ahead if the nation was forced to accept the “slavery of criminals.” The PTI said “We reject the entire drama of PDM 2.0 after gathering mandate pilferers. The nation gave the mandate to the PTI in the Centre, Punjab, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), with a clear majority of 180 seats. The party will resist using all platforms against the theft of the public mandate. Decision-makers must give the majority party its due right to form its government.”[19]

On February 21, 2024, the PMLN continued its efforts toward government formation by striking agreements with various coalition partners following a recent power-sharing accord with the PPP. PMLN representatives engaged with delegations from the MQMP, BAP, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), solidifying their alliances and outlining plans for governance. It was disclosed that the PMLN and MQMP have reached a consensus to collaborate within the government framework. The agreement underscores a commitment to foster reconciliation and cooperation, with a focus on enhancing political, democratic, and economic stability across the nation.

Central to their discussions was the imperative of ensuring equitable distribution of resources and powers, laying the groundwork for future deliberations on critical issues such as the protection of urban rights in Sindh, particularly in Karachi, and the restoration of the port city’s economic prominence. [20]

The proposed new government looks like the shaky coalition that combined to oust Khan in a no-confidence vote in 2022 when Sharif became Prime Minister for the first time. The PTI has valid reasons to lash out against the PDM 2.0 government agreement and the reiteration of its accusations of foul play. The issue of election rigging is profoundly serious and is tearing the nation apart. Therefore, it must be examined thoroughly and rectified immediately, to the extent possible.

Today, amid rigging allegations arising out of the elections, Pakistan finds itself in a political crisis yet again. The country also faces serious economic and security challenges with no easy solution in sight. The new Sharif government will have to face these challenges head-on to avert political chaos and anarchy in the country. However, the new Sharif government is a déjà vu of earlier failed democratic experiments by the Pakistan military. From a hybrid democratic system, Pakistan has descended to an authoritarian system of governance much like the Central Asian republics and the many Mukhbara states in the Middle East. There is little hope for a transformation of Pakistan from an authoritarian system towards even a semblance of democracy.


  1. Azaz Syed, Sophia Saifi and Rhea Mogul, “Pakistan’s major parties formally announce ruling coalition that keeps Imran Khan shut out”, CNN ,  February 21, 2024, Pakistan’s major parties formally announce ruling coalition that keeps Imran Khan shut out (msn.com)
  2. Ibid
  3. Sadanand Dhume, “Pakistanis Vote for Imran Khan—and With Their Feet”, Wall Street Journal, February 14, 2024, https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistanis-vote-for-imran-khanand-with-their-feet-election-chaos-migration-5280a42b
  4. Sadanand Dhume, “Pakistanis Vote for Imran Khan—and With Their Feet”, The Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2024
  5. Asif Shahzad, “Pakistan’s majority parties struggle to form coalition government”, Reuters, February 19, 2024, https://news.yahoo.com/pakistans-majority-parties-struggle-form-081834185.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall
  6. “Pakistan sovereign dollar bonds slide in aftermath of contentious election”, Reuters, February 19, 2024, https://finance.yahoo.com/news/pakistan-sovereign-dollar-bonds-slide-075658583.html?fr=sycsrp_catchall
  7. European Union Questions Credibility of General Elections in Pakistan, ProPK, February 10, 2024, https://propakistani.pk/2024/02/10/european-union-questions-credibility-of-general-elections-in-pakistan/
  8. George Paul, “Shifting sands in Pakistan’s political landscape, February 15 , 2024, Shifting sands in Pakistan’s political landscape – Pakistan – Dunya News
  9. Ali Raza & Bureau report & Mumtaz Alvi , “PTI names Omar Ayub for PM, Mian Aslam for Punjab CM”, The News, February 16, 2024, PTI names Omar Ayub for PM, Mian Aslam for Punjab CM (thenews.com.pk)
  10. Kasim Abbasi, “Imran keen to mend fences with US:”, The News, February 16, 2024, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/1158135-news-analysis-imran-keen-to-mend-fences-with-us
  11. “Pakistan’s caretaker government has denied these allegations. Pakistan politician says his win was ‘rigged’, BBC News, February 15, 2024, Pakistan politician says his win was ‘rigged’ (msn.com)
  12. Dunya News, February 15, 2024
  13. Zahid Hussain, “Polls and their aftermath”, Dawn, February 14, 2024, Polls and their aftermath – Newspaper – DAWN.COM
  14. Omar Waraich, “Angry Young Pakistanis Give Imran Khan a Future Shot at Power”, Foreign Policy ,  February 12, 2024 , Pakistan’s Shock Election Gives Jailed Khan Another Chance (foreignpolicy.com)
  15. Michael Kugelman,  “How Imran Khan’s Party Stunned Pakistan” Foreign Policy, How Imran Khan’s Party Stunned Pakistan – Foreign Policy
  16. “Pakistan’s Imran Khan-backed candidates to join Sunni party -interim party chief”, Reuters, February 19, 2024,  https://news.yahoo.com/pakistans-imran-khan-backed-candidates-121122177.html
  17. “An Election Shatters the Image of Pakistan’s Mightiest Force” New York Times, February 21, 2024, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/21/world/asia/pakistan-military-election.html
  18. Ibid
  19. https://www.thenews.com.pk/liveblog/pakistan-election-2024-live-updatesAfter
  20. “PPP, PML-N woos other coalition partners for govt formation”, The Tribune, February 21, 2024, https://tribune.com.pk/story/2457181/after-ppp-pml-n-woos-other-coalition-partners-for-govt-formation

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are of the author solely. TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.

About the author

Sohail Mahmood is an independent global affairs analyst and the author of several books, monographs, and research articles on the Middle East and South Asian politics, governance, and development issues. He has taught for about 30 years in various universities of Pakistan and the US and has worked as a consultant for the World Bank, CIDA, SDC, IUCN, and UNDP. Sohail lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States.

Sohail Mahmood

Sohail Mahmood is an independent global affairs analyst and the author of several books, monographs, and research articles on the Middle East and South Asian politics, governance, and development issues. He has taught for about 30 years in various universities of Pakistan and the US and has worked as a consultant for the World Bank, CIDA, SDC, IUCN, and UNDP. Sohail lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States.

Your Thoughts