Islamabad [Pakistan]: As Pakistan prepares for the General Elections on Thursday, persistent polarization and violence continue to pose dire challenges for the country.
To closely monitor security arrangements nationwide, the Interior Ministry of Pakistan has set up a 'control room' to monitor the security during voting.
Nawaz Sharif, the supreme leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), is seeking an unprecedented fourth term. He has made a powerful political comeback after four years of exile in London following his conviction on corruption charges. After returning to Pakistan in October, the majority of his sentences were reversed by the courts, allowing him to contest the elections.
Whereas, on the other hand, Imran Khan, founder of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) and considered one of the most popular leaders in the country, is incarcerated in Adiala jail on multiple charges.
The cricketer-turned-politician has been disqualified from contesting the polls and has been sentenced to 10 years in the cypher case, 14 years in the Toshakhana case, and seven years in the 'un-Islamic' marriage case. Additionally, the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld the Election Commission of Pakistan's decision to revoke the party's iconic 'bat' symbol.
However, Khan has maintained that all the cases against him are "politically motivated" and has vowed that his party PTI will spring a 'surprise' on February 8, Dawn reported.
In a video message posted on his official handle, Khan urged his supporters to come out and vote in large numbers.
"Elections are tomorrow. I want you to come out and bring out as many people as you know. Because you will change the fate of yourself as well as that of your children through these elections," Khan said.
Meanwhile, amid escalating political tensions and Pakistan's ongoing economic crisis, Nawaz Sharif aims to articulate his vision for addressing the multifaceted challenges confronting Pakistan.
Sharif has also vowed to establish "good relations" with India and said that he does not seek revenge.
"We want an independent and comprehensive foreign policy. We want to deal world with grace and equality. We want to make Pakistan an economic power by establishing friendly relations with neighbouring states.
Pakistan can't be developed by fighting or clashing with others. I believe in development not in revenge," he said while addressing a political rally last October.
In the election manifesto, PML-N has pledged to ensure youth representation in national politics through parliament and provincial and local governments and to combat the impacts of climate change and a "zero-tolerance policy" towards terrorism.
PML-N urged its supporters to vote for Nawaz Sharif, claiming that Pakistan witnessed a "golden era" under PML-N tenure from 2013-18.
"The years from 2013 to 2018 marked a golden era for Pakistan. Let's continue the journey of progress and prosperity. Vote wisely! VOTE SHER," PML-N posted on Wednesday.
Sharif's main challenger is Bilawal Bhutto Zardari (35), the Chairman of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP). Bilawal, the son of slain PM Benazir Bhutto, has positioned himself as a young alternative to the veteran Sharif.
"I do not want four but one chance. If you give me a chance, I will change the fate of the country and solve all the problems [being faced by the country]," Bilawal took a jibe at PML-N supremo during a January rally, reported Geo News.
PPP in its election manifesto, has promised to double the real incomes of wage earners by ensuring growth, investments and job creation as a real-time priority. The manifesto mainly focuses on dealing with poverty and providing facilities to the working and lower class and outlines healthcare facilities, education, food security and women's empowerment.
Former Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari emphasized that the PPP is better at managing the economy.
"Everyone agrees increasing exports is the only way out for Pakistan from our economic crisis. Every time PMLN has been in control of finance exports have decreased. The last time PPP was incharge, exports increased the most despite a global recession. PPP is better at managing the economy - fact!" Bilawal said in his post.
Notably, PML-N and PPP were part of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) alliance, which assumed power after the ouster of Imran Khan in April 2022. However, in the run-up to the polls, both parties have been at loggerheads.
Meanwhile, political violence has escalated ahead of election day, with two blasts in separate locations in the southwestern province of Balochistan on Wednesday -- a region plagued by decades of insurgency -- killing at least 30 people and injuring 40 others.
Pakistan's caretaker administration, led by Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar, has failed to address the country's economic dysfunction amidst growing debt and inflation. The incoming administration will face significant challenges in handling the crisis-stricken economy since the IMF bailout agreement expires in March.
A recent World Bank report stated that Pakistan's economic development is limited to the elite which resulted in the country lagging behind its fellow countries in the wake of the economic crisis in Pakistan, Pakistan vernacular media reported.
World Bank Country Director for Pakistan, Najy Benhassine, noted that Pakistan's economic model has become "ineffective" and said that poverty has started to increase again, the significant reduction in poverty in the past is resurfacing, the sentiment is growing towards changing the policy and that economic development in Pakistan is not sustainable.
The polls, which are already delayed come amid mounting challenges, including economic uncertainty, frequent militant attacks, and climate catastrophes, putting millions at risk.
This sets the stage for a difficult road to recovery for whoever wins in a nation where no democratically elected prime minister has ever completed a full term in office, as reported by CNN.