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Pakistanis' Discontent Reaches Record High Before Election

Pakistanis' Discontent Reaches Record High Before Election

by Hashim Pasha and Benedict Vigers

Story Highlights

  • Economic outlook worst on record
  • Majority lack trust in elections
  • Attitudes toward migrants sour

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ahead of the election on Thursday, Gallup surveys show that Pakistanis are more discouraged than they have been in decades about a multitude of economic, political and security challenges that are threatening their country’s stability.

The country’s failing economy will likely be central to the vote, although it is far from the only issue on the electorate’s minds. In late 2023, Pakistanis were more pessimistic about their economy than they have been at any point in the past 18 years that Gallup has polled them. A record-high 70% said economic conditions where they live are getting worse.


Economic Outlook Bleak; Living Standards Getting Worse

Inflation reached 29.7% in December, and the Pakistani rupee was Asia’s worst-performing currency last year. Pakistan struggled to remain solvent in 2023, finding relief only through an IMF program and financial assistance from traditional allies China, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

As the country’s macroeconomic conditions have deteriorated, so too has the more microeconomic outlook of its people. In 2023, record-high numbers of Pakistanis thought that both their local economy (70%) and their personal standard of living were getting worse (61%).


As high inflation rates eat away at people’s incomes, Pakistanis are increasingly finding it hard to make ends meet: 49% last year found it “very difficult” to get by on their present income, another record high.

Little Faith in Electoral, Governmental Integrity

The political atmosphere ahead of Pakistan’s first general election since 2018 is equally as glum as the economic one. Seven in 10 Pakistanis lack confidence in the honesty of their elections. While this ties previous highs, it nevertheless represents a significant regression in recent years.


In addition to their skepticism about elections, a clear majority of Pakistanis (88%) also believe that corruption within their government is widespread, on par with the figure from 2022 (86%), which was a record high for the country. Last year, just one in four (25%) approved of Pakistan’s leadership.

Pakistan’s political landscape has remained unsettled since the ouster of former Prime Minister Imran Khan in April 2022. On Jan. 30 of this year, Khan was sentenced to 10 years in prison in a highly controversial court case and received a 14-year sentence the next day from an anti-graft court. The crackdown on Khan’s PTI party has been met with palpable public anger.

Anti-Migrant Sentiment Rises

Pakistanis grew increasingly hostile toward migrants last year. Thirty-seven percent believed that immigrants living in Pakistan was a “good thing,” down significantly from 2022 (53%) and back in line with the figure from 2016 (37%). Even fewer Pakistanis think that an immigrant becoming their neighbor (32%) or marrying a close relative (17%) is a good thing, both also down from 2022.


More than 4 million Afghans live in Pakistan, around 1.7 million of whom are in the country illegally. In October 2023, Pakistan announced that it would expel undocumented refugees on security grounds. The roots of Pakistan’s growing anti-immigrant sentiment are likely related to the economic, political and security challenges facing the country.

Security Situation Deteriorates

Last year, 53% of Pakistanis felt safe walking alone in their area at night, a seven-percentage-point decline since 2022 and the lowest figure recorded in a decade.


Although nowhere near the violent years of the late 2000s and early 2010s, there has been an uptick in violence in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan’s border regions with Afghanistan. In late 2023, military and police outposts were targeted by terrorists, resulting in the deaths of several people.

Pakistan’s relationship with the Taliban government in Kabul is strained, accusing it of inaction toward groups hostile to the Pakistani state.

Bottom Line

At the crossroads of South, Central and Western Asia, the outcome of Thursday’s election matters because Pakistan is a linchpin of regional stability that has global implications. With a young population, economic potential and a considerable stockpile of nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s stability continues to be a security imperative, even if it fails to make headlines among other more pressing conflicts.

The country of 241 million requires considerable political and economic reform to remedy the structural nature of its fiscal debts. For whoever wins the election, reform will be difficult without a popular mandate. Political unrest arising from a disenfranchised voting public may lead to increased instability over the short term. This may further deter the foreign investment Pakistan badly needs to grow its economy and reverse its fortunes in the long term.

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