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AI will upset democracies, dictatorships, and elections

There’s no mistaking it: Artificial intelligence is here, and it’s already playing a major role in elections around the globe. In a year with national elections in 64 countries, the world’s governments are seeing the immediate impact of this nascent technology in real time.

In Pakistan, former Prime Minister Imran Khan – behind bars, with his party banned – used deepfake technology to simulate his voice and image to galvanize supporters. Khan’s allies (running as independents) took the greatest share of the vote, shocking the military-political establishment in Islamabad.

In Indonesia, Defense Minister Prabowo Subiantoused a “chubby-cheeked AI avatar” to appeal to younger voters on TikTok — and it worked. Official tallies are still pending, but Subianto is the presumed winner of the race, and watchdogs have criticized the conduct of the polls.

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Deepfakes and dissent: How AI makes the opposition more dangerous
Did AI make Navalny more dangerous? | Fiona Hill | Global Stage

Deepfakes and dissent: How AI makes the opposition more dangerous

Former US National Security Council advisor Fiona Hill has plenty of experience dealing with dangerous dictators – but 2024 is even throwing her some curveballs.

After Imran Khan upset the Pakistani establishment in February’s elections by using AI to rally his voters behind bars, she thinks authoritarians must reconsider their strategies around suppressing dissent.

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Imran Khan: “The Poster Boy for Populism"
Imran Khan: “The Poster Boy for Populism" | Global Stage

Imran Khan: “The Poster Boy for Populism"

Weeks after a chaotic general election, Pakistan’s political parties still struggle to form a coalition to move the country forward. GZERO’s Tony Maciulis sat down with Pakistan’s former Foreign Minister Hina Khar at the Munich Security Conference for her take on how the nation’s imprisoned ex-Prime Minister Imran Khan maintains a hold over supporters and remains a powerful political force.

Independent candidates mostly aligned with Khan’s political party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), won the most votes on February 8, though they fell short of a majority, setting off a power struggle between Khan and his political rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Comparing Khan to former US President Donald Trump and India’s leader Narendra Modi, Khar said, “He really represents what populist leaders are all about. He’s able to get everybody to rally around what all is wrong and the great injustices. However, when he comes to power, he doesn’t have any to plan to sort it out.”

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Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party.

REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Coalition deal shuts out Khan in Pakistan

Candidates affiliated with imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan won the most votes in last week’s election in Pakistan, but no single party won a clear majority, so a coalition government had to be formed.

On Tuesday, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, aka PLMN, and the Pakistan People’s Party, or PPP, announced that they had agreed to form a coalition government with two smaller, regional parties.

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A man views a computer screen displaying an AI-crafted speech of former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Imran Khan’s AI prison address

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan needed a tech solution to get his message out during the Pakistani parliamentary elections.

Khan, himself disqualified from running due to his prison sentence on corruption charges, has spent months urging voters to help elect his political allies, independent candidates affiliated with his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party. Khan, unable to record an address from prison, used an AI-generated version of his voice to read it.

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Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party block a road to protest against the results of the general election, at Baleli, on the outskirts of Quetta, Pakistan, February 12, 2024.

REUTERS/Naseer Ahmed

Is Pakistan’s military losing its grip on power?

Thousands of supporters of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan took to the streets and blocked highways in southwestern Pakistan on Monday to protest the results of last week’s chaotic election.

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Supporters of former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party gather during a protest demanding free and fair results of the elections in Karachi, Pakistan February 11, 2024.

REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

Pakistan faces uncertain future after messy election

Following days of delay, the final results of Pakistan’s elections were announced on Sunday. Unexpectedly, independent candidates aligned with imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan took the most seats — 101 — outpacing the party of Khan’s rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, which won 75 spots out of 266 seats up for grabs.

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Burqa-clad women arrive at a polling station to cast their vote as a police officer stands guard during general election, in Peshawar, Pakistan, February 8, 2024.

REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Who won Pakistan’s violent, chaotic election?

Pakistan went to the polls on Thursday in an election tainted by undemocratic practices – including a suspension of mobile phone services during voting – and violence.

Amid unexpected delays in the tallying of votes, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharifdeclared victory Friday despite acknowledging that his party did not win enough seats to form a government. Sharif said his party won the largest share of the vote and that he would seek to form a coalition government. Meanwhile, reports indicated that independent candidates mostly affiliated with imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan won the most seats so far.

Before Election Day, Pakistan’s military was effectively accused of rigging the process in favor of Sharif and his Pakistan Muslim League party with a rampant crackdown on Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party. Sharif and Khan are archrivals.

There’s “no doubt” that the delays in the vote count are part of a military-backed effort to ensure Khan-affiliated candidates don't come out on top, says Pramit Chaudhuri, Eurasia Group’s head of South Asia Research.

“PTI seems to have been able to get through the fog and connect its voters with their independent candidates,” says Chaudhuri, adding, “The results are the generals’ nightmare.”

Ongoing violence. At least 28 people were reportedly killed in Pakistan during voting on Thursday, and the violence continued into Friday, with at least two people killed in clashes between police and Khan supporters in the northwestern Shangla district.

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