Pakistan Elections: Imran Khan's Supporters Skillfully Used Tech to Defy Powerful Military

Independent candidates backed by the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf (PTI) party emerged as the largest single block with 93 seats in the nation's parliament in the general elections held on February 8, 2024.  This feat was accomplished in spite of huge obstacles thrown in front of the PTI's top leader Imran Khan and his party leaders and supporters by Pakistan's powerful military to prevent their victory. 

Pakistan's Official Election Results 2024. Source: Aljazeera 

Imran Khan and his top party leaders were thrown in jail on trumped up charges, his party was denied a unified electoral symbol of cricket bat, his supporters' rallies were banned, the mainstream media were prevented from carrying PTI leaders' speeches and the Internet was repeatedly blocked when the party held online events. So how did they succeed in spite of it? The answer lies in how skillfully the PTI activists used technology to get the party's messages out to the country's young electorate. 

Well over 90% of Pakistan's adults have access to the Internet. This allows them to use a variety of  apps ranging from TikTok and YouTube to Facebook, Instagram and X. The PTI supporters used AI (Artificial Intelligence) to produce Imran Khan's speeches using his own voice and words and made them go viral. They used X Spaces to engage with the public. Here's how Uzair Younus, a Pakistani-American analyst at The Atlantic Council, a Washington-based Think Tank, describes what occurred:

"The result of PTI’s technological campaign strategy was a more engaged and informed electorate, which translated into significant electoral gains. Khan’s PTI managed to galvanize a significant part of the electorate, and the party’s success demonstrates the potential of digital tools to democratize political participation and challenge entrenched power structures". 

When it became clear that the PTI was headed for a massive victory with more than half of the 264 National Assembly seats as live results from the polling started to pour in on the evening of February 8, there was a sudden mysterious delay in real time reporting. Most political analysts in Pakistan believe that this delay was ordered by the Pakistani military to rig the results.  This belief is confirmed by the reports that the total votes reported cast for PTI  by the polling stations on "Form 45" add up to a lot more votes than those reported cast on "Form 47" for over 55 constituencies of the National Assembly. These 55 seats plus the officially reported 93 seats add up to 148 seats giving PTI more than half of the total 264 directly elected members in the National Assembly. 

Any coalition government formed by the PTI opponents is unlikely to be stable or long lasting. This unstable situation will likely prolong the deep economic crisis the country now faces. The best course of action for the Pakistani military is to release Imran Khan from jail and allow his party to form the next government. 

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Comment by Riaz Haq on February 17, 2024 at 8:03am

Rawalpindi commissioner says poll results ‘manipulated’ under his watch; ECP rejects claims

https://www.dawn.com/news/1814959

Rawalpindi Commissioner Liaquat Ali Chatha made explosive claims on Saturday, asserting that the results of the February 8 general elections were “manipulated” under his watch. He also resigned from his position.

Speaking to reporters outside the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, Chatha said, “I am taking responsibilty for all this wrongdoing.” He alleged that the chief election commissioner and a top judge of the Supreme Court were “involved in this”.

“We made independent candidates — who had leads of 70,000-80,000 votes — lose by putting on fake stamps,” he added.

In a handwritten letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, he said he was resigning from his “post and service” as he was “deeply involved in serious crime like mega election rigging 2024”.

The letter was addressed to Punjab Governor Haji Ghulam Ali, interim provincial chief minister Mohsin Naqvi and the provincial chief secretary.

When asked if there were “irregularities” in the electoral process and if the local returning officers had delayed the transmission of results, Chatha said that “‘irregularities’ is a minor word for it”.

The commissioner further said that “stabbing the country in its back” does not let him sleep.

“I should be punished for the injustice I have done and others who were involved in this injustice should also be punished,” he added.

Earlier, addressing a press conference at the Rawalpindi Cricket Stadium, Chatha said there was “pressure” on him to the extent that he contemplated suicide in the morning but then resolved to present matters before the public.

“It is my request to the entire bureaucracy to not do anything wrong for all these political people,” he added.

Responding to Chatha’s claims, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said it “strongly rejected the allegations against the ECP or the chief election commissioner”.

In a press release, the electoral watchdog said none of its officials ever issued any instructions to Chatha for a “change in the election results”.

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