The Irish Times view on the election in Pakistan: a watershed moment

Weeks of haggling are inevitable, leaving the country without a government as it approaches crucial negotiations with the IMF

From jail, with many of his party candidates in hiding, Imran Khan has dealt a remarkable blow to the Pakistan military’s political influence and to the hopes of his great rival Nawaz Sharif of returning to power. The former prime minister’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has stunned the country, with independents running under the banned party’s banner taking 101 seats out of 235 being contested. It is a remarkable result, though it will prolong the instability that dogs the country.

PTI supporters are out on the street, denouncing what they say are the overt attempts by the military to crush the party in a rigged election that, the say, has denied them a further 70 seats and a clear overall majority. Thousands of PTI supporters were detained in the months before the polls and the party’s leadership has vowed to make its immediate priorities the fight for Khan’s release, along with proving that it won a majority.

Nawaz Sharif, meanwhile, is pinning his hopes on rekindling an alliance with the Pakistan People’s party (PPP) of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of slain premier Benazir Bhutto.

Now weeks of haggling in parliament are inevitable, as both of the largest parties try to build a viable coalition, leaving the country without a government as it approaches crucial negotiations on another bailout from the IMF. A minority government will lack credibility and find it difficult to push through what are likely to be difficult terms.

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Khan’s populist success in mobilising young voters, in no small measure using social media, against the country’s twin powers of the military and powerful ruling families, has changed the political landscape. Instead of crushing the PTI the military repression emboldened a young voter base that is deeply disillusioned with Pakistan’s political system.

The election seems to marks a watershed moment. Critically, will the military accept the possibility of a Khan-led government and work with it? Mixed signals from the country’s generals hint at some desire to mend fences. Their willingness to see him out on bail will be a first test.