ISLAMABAD: Despite suffering political setbacks, desertions and a nationwide crackdown against its leaders and supporters, a senior leader of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) said on Wednesday the party would secure the majority in the upcoming elections due to its “potent election strategy.”
Ousted via a parliamentary vote in April 2022, ex-PM Khan’s popularity has surged among the masses according to opinion polls. However, the cricketer-turned-politician has suffered major political blows since May 9, when hundreds of PTI leaders and supporters were arrested following violent protests by his supporters that saw military installations and government buildings attacked in many parts of the country after his brief arrest.
Khan himself has been in jail since August after he was convicted by a court for illegally selling state gifts during his tenure as prime minister and was handed a three-year imprisonment sentence. Pakistan’s election regulator subsequently disqualified him from holding any office for five years following the conviction. While the Islamabad High Court suspended the conviction on Aug. 29, Khan remains in jail in yet another case where he is accused of leaking the contents of a secret letter. PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi and the party’s president, Chaudhry Parvez Elahi, are also in jail on separate charges.
Despite the setbacks, the PTI is preparing for the upcoming elections which were scheduled to be held in November but will most likely be delayed to early next year after the previous government of ex-PM Shehbaz Sharif approved the results of a population census days before dissolving the parliament in August. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is bound by law to redraw hundreds of constituencies based on the results of the latest census, an exercise that could delay polls to February and beyond.
“We have worked out a potent election strategy to field our candidates in all constituencies across Pakistan and we are sure to win a majority in the polls,” Barrister Gohar Ali Khan, a PTI spokesperson and member of the party’s core committee, told Arab News.
Khan referred to the IHC’s Aug. 29 decision, saying that the former prime minister is “fully eligible” to contest elections.
“As per law, Imran Khan and all other PTI leaders are eligible to file their nomination papers even from jails to contest polls,” Khan said. “Once the nomination papers are filed, we will seek relief from the courts and the ECP for a level-playing field.
“We are hopeful Imran Khan will be out of jail soon and he will lead the party’s election campaign.”
He said Khan was far more popular than his political rivals hence it would be difficult to rig the upcoming elections.
Electoral and legal experts said questions would be raised about the upcoming election’s credibility if the PTI and its chairman were not allowed to take part in it.
“All electoral contestants including PTI ticket-holders should be given equal opportunity to contest polls without any fear and favor to ensure transparency of elections,” Muddassir Rizvi, director of programs at the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN) in Islamabad, told Arab News.
“The party should be allowed to nominate contestants of its choice, otherwise it will seriously dent the credibility of the polls,” he said, suggesting that the ECP should deploy police and paramilitary troops instead of army personnel on polling day to avoid any controversies, given the PTI’s tense relations with the military.
Advocate Abid Saqi said it was premature to speak on Khan and the PTI’s political future because of the unpredictable nature of Pakistani politics.
“All polls and surveys at the moment show Imran Khan is by and large the most popular leader, but the fact is he is in jail,” Saqi told Arab News. “His conviction in the Toshakhana (state repository) case is suspended and he can contest polls, but what if he is convicted in another case before elections and that conviction stays during the electoral process,” he asked.
“Legal questions aside, elections without the PTI and its leaders would remain disputed,” he added.