Pakistan bets on its cricket star

Though he has bested the traditional ruling parties PML-N and PPP, putting Pakistan on track is a much tougher task

By Author  |  Published: 29th Jul 2018  12:25 amUpdated: 28th Jul 2018  10:14 pm
Imran Khan
Pakistan's cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) speaks to the media after casting his vote at a polling station during the general election in Islamabad on July 25, 2018. Photo: AFP

After three decades, Pakistan has chosen a new path. Pakistan Muslim League (N) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which have ruled Pakistan for the last 30 years, have been voted out. Former cricketer Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is the winner of the country’s historic third consecutive election of a civilian government, but he didn’t win an outright majority and must form a coalition.

After three days of tediously slow vote counting, PTI won 116 of 270 seats in the National Assembly with his nearest rival Shahbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (N) winning 64 seats and the PPP, headed by Bilawal Bhutto, winning 43 seats.

The elections marked only the second time in country’s 71-year history that one civilian government has handed power to another. Pakistan had a British-modelled parliamentary system in place and voters elected lawmakers to both its National Assembly and its four provincial Parliaments.

Sixty five-year-old Khan made his first speech to the nation declaring his party victorious based on projections on Thursday. “Today in front of you, in front of the people of Pakistan, I pledge I will run Pakistan in such a way as it has never before been run,” Khan said, vowing to wipe out corruption, strengthen institutions he called dysfunctional and regain national pride by developing international relationships based on respect and equality.

Marred by Manipulation
His opponents and rights groups charge that widespread fraud and massive manipulation gave Khan’s party its victory. They allege involvement of Pakistan’s powerful military and its intelligence agency, ISI.

Michael Gahler, chief of the European Union election observer mission, said that “we have concluded there was a lack of equality of opportunity,” adding that the overall process was “not as good” as in 2013. The European Union Election Observation Mission had 120 monitors in major centres across Pakistan, with the exception of Baluchistan.

PML(N) head Shahbaz Sharif has rejected the results charging widespread fraud and manipulation. Maulana Fazalur Rehman, spokesperson for a group of parties, said that “we will run a movement for holding of elections again. There will be protests.”

Khan has dismissed the allegations saying polling was the most transparent in the country’s 71-year history, which has been dominated by military interference, either directly or indirectly. In fact, there have been widespread allegations that the army has tilted the polls in favour of Khan. Khan also does not support the ‘Charter of Democracy,’ signed in 2006 between PPP and PML(N), which pledges that “no party shall solicit the support of the military to come to power.”

Hours after the polls opened, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated explosives in a crowd waiting to vote in the southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province. In addition to the 31 dead, the attack wounded 35 people. Baluchistan also saw the worst violence during campaigning, when a suicide bomber struck at a political rally, killing 149 people, including candidate Siraj Raisani. Another 400 were wounded.

More than 11,000 candidates vied for 270 seats in Pakistan’s law-making National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and 577 seats in four provincial assemblies. Under Pakistani law, separate seats are reserved for women and for non-Muslim minorities, which comprise 4% of the population.

Performance in Provinces
The PML(N) won a majority of seats in Pakistan’s most powerful Punjab province winning 127 of the 297-seat provincial parliament, while Khan’s PTI took 122 seats, giving neither an outright majority. The Punjab parliament is significant because Punjab is Pakistan’s largest province, with 60% of the country’s 200 million people.

Khan’s party won a sweeping majority (65 out of 97 seats) in the conservative Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, while the PPP won the most seats (74 out of 130 seats) in southern Sindh’s provincial legislature. Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi and the country’s financial hub is the provincial capital of Sindh. The restive Baluchistan province beset by militant violence was won by a mix of small parties who will have to form a coalition to rule.

Moderates Prevail
Although rights groups and minorities expressed worries ahead of the voting about radical religious groups taking part, moderate voices seemed to have prevailed: None of the 265 candidates fielded by the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba won a seat. That includes the son of co-founder and US-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head.

The candidates campaigned under the little known Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek party because Lashkar-e-Taiba is banned.

Imran’s Challenges
Imran Khan has promised to fight corruption and help millions of impoverished citizens. During 2013 elections, he had promised to wipe out corruption in 90 days. This time, he has promised to create 10 million jobs in five years and get back from abroad the $2.3 billion “looted by Sharif family from the public coffers”. He will also have to handle a crumbling economy and bloodshed by militants.

Khan has been an outspoken critic of the US-led war in neighbouring Afghanistan as well as China’s massive investment in Pakistan, which has racked up millions of dollars in debt to Beijing.

Moeed Yusuf of US Institute of Peace says the top challenge for the next government will be the economic crisis. “The new government is going to be in an unenviable position, and especially Imran Khan, as he is not the preferred Prime Minister for Pakistan’s two traditional chief patrons, China and the US.”

In 1992, Imran Khan rescued Pakistan from the brink and won it the cricket World Cup. He has a much tougher task at hand this time around. (AP and agencies)