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Pakistan goes to polls on July 25: Here’s why India should care

Pakistan, with its checkered political history, is gearing up for its 11th General Elections since 1970, which will take place on July 25. The sixth largest country in the world with a population of about 200 million, Pakistan will witness with these elections only the second civilian transfer of power in its 71-year history.

The upcoming elections have largely been a race between two main players–former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) (PML-N) and cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). According to data released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), 105.9 million voters will be able to cast their vote in the crucial polls.

Here is all you need to know about the main players:

1. Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)
Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won a landslide victory in the country’s last election, but has been bombarded with corruption cases and disqualifications. This poll has created a do-or-die situation for the incumbent party, which is now being helmed by Nawaz Sharif’s brother, Shehbaz. The PML-N has been campaigning on the strength of its economic record, including energy and infrastructure projects that are part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

2. Imran Khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf
Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and PTI are the main challengers to PML(N) in this election. Many believe that Khan has the backing of the military, which continues to maintain immense influence in the country’s politics. Khan is contesting the elections with the promise to root out high-level corruption and to reform systems of governance, thus creating a ‘Naya (new) Pakistan’. If the PTI wins enough seats in PML-N’s heartland, Punjab, it could wrest the government from the Sharifs.

3. Bilawal Zardari Bhutto, People’s Party of Pakistan
The People’s Party of Pakistan is the only left-leaning political party in the country, and has been in government several times since its founding in 1967. It is being led by the 29-year-old son of the late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto. He is also the grandson of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was deposed in the 1977 military coup.

The Numbers Game
Pakistan’s powerful military has ruled the nuclear-armed country for nearly half its existence. For the years it has not been in power, it has picked favorites among politicians to head the country. The last general elections were held on May 11, 2013, where PML-N won the public mandate with an overwhelming majority and Nawaz Sharif was elected as prime minister.

Pakistan has four provinces: Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

More than 105 million voters can cast their ballots for two seats in each constituency: one for the National Assembly (the lower house of the federal parliament) and one for their Provincial Assembly (which runs their provincial government).

There are 272 directly elected and 70 reserved National Assembly seats up for grabs across the country. A party will need to bag at least 137 of the directly elected seats to be able to form the government on its own.

Why India should care
Ties with India are probably one of the more important issues plaguing Pakistan ahead of the polls, and is the most complex part of each of the two countries’ foreign policy. On July 3, Lashkar-e-Taiba co-founder, Hafiz Saeed, hit out at Pakistani politicians, calling them puppets of India and the US. “If we decide to vote for the slaves of the United States and the friends of (Prime Minister of India) Narendra Modi, then we are digging our own graves,” Saeed said while addressing a political gathering in Okara city of Pakistan’s Punjab province. “India, sitting in Afghanistan supported by the United States, is planning to pide Pakistan.”

Hafiz Saeed’s son Hafiz Talha Saeed and his son-in-law Khalid Waleed are among 265 candidates fielded by the Jamaat-ud-Dawa for national and provincial assembly seats across Pakistan for the general elections, with the banned group’s political wing vowing to make the country a “citadel of Islam”. Saeed’s party gaining electoral weight will be a worrying sign for India because that will mean mainstreaming of terrorist ideology.

On the other hand, PML-N chief Shehbaz Sharif has asked India to continue peace talks with Islamabad, saying the Singapore summit between the US and North Korea should set a good precedent for the neighbours to follow.

The new government will have to conduct foreign relations with skill. Pakistan’s relationship with India is historically fraught, especially over Kashmir and the complicity of Pakistan’s military and secret services in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. A government controlled by the military or pressured by Saeed’s party will have a negative influence on Indo-Pak relations.