(Lahore) In Pakistan, the candidates officially have until midnight on Tuesday to try to convince a few more undecided people at the end of a dismal electoral campaign, which illustrates popular discouragement before a vote deemed unfair.
The Islamic republic of 240 million inhabitants will vote on Thursday for legislative and provincial elections, but the credibility of the vote is questioned by independent observers.
The popular former Prime Minister Imran Khan is incarcerated and his party’s candidates, subjected to severe repression for several months, have not been authorized to run under his colors, but only as independents.
The door thus seems open to the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif, who at the age of 74 could once again become prime minister for the fourth time.
Prevented from campaigning, Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), nevertheless hopes to mobilize its supporters, particularly among disenchanted youth, for whom the former cricket star could represent a hope for change.
But the lack of enthusiasm for the election campaign suggests that turnout could be low in the vote, for which 128 million people are called to the polls.
The Gallup polling institute on Tuesday pointed to a political atmosphere “as gloomy as the economic situation” for this first legislative election since 2018.
According to this institute, “seven out of 10 Pakistanis do not have confidence in the integrity of the elections”, “a significant regression compared to recent years”.
The Electoral Commission reminded candidates on Tuesday that they would be sanctioned if they continued their campaign after midnight.
The shadow of Imran Khan, 71, hangs over the elections, in which he cannot run. He was sentenced last week to three long prison terms for corruption, treason and illegal marriage.
He is also on trial in a new trial, opened Tuesday before an anti-terrorism court inside his prison, concerning riots provoked by his supporters last May.
These elections are being held in a context of serious economic and security crisis.
Pakistan’s PICSS institute reported a “staggering” increase in attacks by Islamist militants last year, the highest since a military operation launched in 2014 led to improved security.
On Monday, at least 10 police officers were killed in attacks by dozens of attackers on their police station in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, near the border with Afghanistan.
Nearly half of the country’s 90,000 polling stations have been deemed “at risk or high risk” and additional security forces will be deployed there, authorities announced on Tuesday.
Inflation is around 30%, the rupee has been in free fall for almost three years and the freeze on imports for lack of foreign currency has disastrous consequences for industry.
“Pakistanis are more discouraged than they have been in decades by a host of economic, political, and security challenges that threaten the country’s stability,” Gallup observed.
Election favorite Nawaz Sharif returned to Pakistan in October after four years of exile in London, with the consent of the army, which he has often criticized in the past.
He has since benefited from the annulment of several previous convictions for corruption.
He was due to hold his final meeting at the end of the day Tuesday near Lahore, capital of the Punjab province, the most populous in the country and which represents more than half of the electorate.
Another group that has dominated national political life for decades, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is represented by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.
Imran Khan attributed his legal troubles to the army, after having already accused it of having secretly favored his ouster from the post of prime minister in April 2022.
To get around the – unofficial – ban on campaigning, his party turned to social networks, going so far as to use artificial intelligence.
Even if the party denounced a “non-election”, it called on its supporters not to abstain. “The most powerful and significant weapon we have is our vote,” Imran Khan said on his X account this weekend.