In pictures: Pakistan’s high-stakes election

Written by Madeline Holcombe, CNN

“The ruling elite have devised a plan,” declared Zafar Ali Khan, head of the Islamabad police commission, after the vote on a new prime minister. “They want to hold on to power and that’s why they have stood against PTI, but we shall defeat them.”

But Khan and his colleagues were wrong. The opposition Imran Khan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party reached a decisive victory in Pakistan’s parliamentary election, with Khan becoming the country’s third prime minister, but the fact that the race was so close resulted in electoral euphoria rather than the crisis expected by all the odds.

Wahida Chaudhry / i-Images

The atmosphere surrounding the newly elected leadership was reminiscent of the Arab Spring, and Khan — with a huge coalition of popular support, tens of millions of people from across the country — was to promise that change was upon the horizon.

1 / 9 Happy Pakistanis celebrated the country’s biggest-ever election after exit polls predicted that Imran Khan’s Imran Khan Tehreek-e-Insaf party would sweep to victory on Tuesday. © 2017 Anwar Khursheed/Reuters

The military had provided thousands of polling staff and army personnel, given the security necessary to manage an election of such magnitude. Imran Khan had called for the whole situation to be completed within a week, but even Khan’s “give peace a chance” slogan couldn’t stop the run-up to the polling day.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — one of the oldest political parties in Pakistan, founded in 1966 — switched from the electoral field to their hate campaign, leading to widespread protests. Even in the run-up to the electoral process, MQM and their proxy organization the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) — funded in the past by the Pakistani military — criticized Khan’s party, being seen as an outsider to the society.

Around 40 people were killed in suicide bombings following anti-PTI rallies. AFP

Khan himself was scolded for his gangster image and membership of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party that allegedly made him a wealthy industrialist. Nevertheless, the evidence didn’t stick, leading to accusations of vote rigging from his opponents, as well as supporters.

The Pakistani PM-designate went further when he protested about “dark money” flows into the country. Although he did not specify which political party did not have enough “money” to represent the people, he stood accused of the dirtiest of fights.

Mian Nawaz Sharif, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, arrives to cast his vote in a polling station at the Mazar-e-Quaid in Islamabad on July 25, 2018. CNN

The final four days of the campaign saw politicians hurling punches and name-calling on social media, but the parliamentary election campaign never truly got underway.

With the backing of the two most powerful institutions — the government as well as the army — PTI always had the upper hand and thus there was no reason for public anger.

That changed in the run-up to the elections, with accusations that Imran Khan’s party had put up fabricated results.

Pakistan’s electoral system was faulted for the lack of transparency in the voting process. Zafar Ali Khan, Islamabad police commissioner, predicted that there was a pattern of fraud. “I am very aware of something.”

Zafar Ali Khan, former police chief of Pakistan

The provincial assemblies also faced challenges, as the PTI attempted to form alliances and they failed at every level, sending Khan into his parliament and council as a minority leader. This situation put Khan, already aware of his precarious position, at his lowest, sending him further into an abyss of support.

Khan took advantage of the televised debate between his two rivals — a battle of the conservative military leadership versus the establishment party — to turn his party’s criticism into street protests.

There were no arrests of PTI supporters but massive police presence, and only a few protests were allowed.

Hundreds of PTI supporters in Lahore were allowed into the city center — against police advice — for prayers and after several weeks of protests, PTI supporters were removed from the buildings by security forces, leaving them exposed to the elements and tens of thousands left without food.

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