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Has Pakistan’s new coalition government been handed a poisoned chalice?


Simmering tension between the two coalition partners threatens to hobble the capacity of the new government to tackle the multiple crises facing Pakistan.

After days of intense political bargaining following one of the most contested elections in Pakistan’s history, agreement was reached this week on a five-party minority coalition government led by former interim prime minister, Shahbaz Sharif, of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).  

The protracted negotiations between the centre-right PML-N and the centre-left Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) were complicated by a split mandate that failed – against all expectations – to produce a clear winning majority for the PML-N. Its credibility, and by extension the standing of the coalition, has been strongly challenged by former prime minister Imran Khan, leader of the Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which denounced the coalition as ‘mandate thieves’.  

Khan’s group of independent candidates won the largest number of seats (92), far ahead of the PML-N, which came second with 75 seats, and the PPP which came third with 54 seats. Khan, who is currently in jail serving extended prison sentences, has since claimed that his candidates were deprived of an absolute majority through widespread electoral fraud.

His allegations have shocked the country and received international attention. UN Secretary-General António Guterres has expressed concern and urged all election disputes to be legally resolved, while US and UK governments have called for an investigation into purported irregularities. In a dramatic escalation of the crisis, a commissioner in Rawalpindi last week accused the chief election commissioner and the chief justice of Pakistan of putting him under ‘pressure’ to change the election results and withhold seats from winning candidates backed by the PTI.

While these claims have been firmly rejected by the election commission and the caretaker administration, the ensuing confusion has threatened to destabilize the smooth transition of power. The PTI, supported by smaller parties, has staged countrywide mass demonstrations and demanded that the people’s ‘real mandate’ be recognized. But there are also indications that the PTI has instructed its candidates to join the opposition. This could spell more instability by obstructing the business of an already fragile coalition.

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