Pakistan is set to hold its general elections on February 8, with 128 million eligible voters expected to cast their ballots for the 342-member National Assembly and the four provincial assemblies. The elections are seen as a crucial test for the country’s democracy, which has been marred by military coups, political instability, and allegations of interference by the powerful army.
The main contenders for the polls are the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who returned to the country last month after being cleared of corruption charges; the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), led by former cricket star Imran Khan, who is in jail on corruption charges; and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007.
The elections are taking place amid a backdrop of economic and security challenges for Pakistan, which is facing a balance of payments crisis, soaring inflation, and rising unemployment. The country is also grappling with the fallout of the US withdrawal from neighboring Afghanistan, which has increased the threat of terrorism and violence along the porous border. Moreover, the elections have been overshadowed by accusations of pre-poll rigging and manipulation by the military establishment, which has denied any involvement.