Imran Khan begins putting together Pakistan coalition

Former cricketer looks set to take over as PM within days despite concerns about election

Imran Khan was on track to become Pakistan’s new prime minister on Thursday, in an election that has been clouded with accusations of vote-rigging. Video: Reuters


Imran Khan has begun putting together his governing coalition as the former cricketer looks set to take over as Pakistan’s prime minister within days, despite lingering concerns about how this week’s election was conducted.

Mr Khan on Friday appointed Jahangir Tareen, a key ally in his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, to handle negotiations with smaller parties during the next few days. Those talks immediately bore fruit, with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan party announcing it would add its six seats in support of Mr Khan’s government.

By Friday evening, the full and final election results had still not been officially declared after what the country’s election commission said were technical glitches during the counting process.

Initial results, however, gave the PTI 115 seats out of a total 272, and Mr Khan’s position as de facto prime minister was sealed when the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which came second, said it would serve as an opposition party.

Mr Khan’s main challenge is now to form a coalition without having to rely on the support of the Pakistan People’s party, which came third, and is led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

The PTI leader has regularly railed against the corruption of Pakistan’s two major political parties, and any deal with them would immediately undermine his outsider status, said analysts. The PML-N’s concession came on Friday despite its claim that Wednesday’s election was rigged, with the country’s powerful army accused of trying to tilt the field in Mr Khan’s direction.

‘Tainted and dubious’

Nawaz Sharif, who was the PML-N leader and prime minister until he was ousted on corruption charges, said the results were “tainted and dubious”. Mr Sharif was talking to senior party colleagues from his jail cell in Lahore, where he has been since being arrested earlier this month.

Those accusations were bolstered on Friday by the EU, which said that the vote had been “overshadowed by restrictions on freedom of expression and unequal campaign opportunities”.

EU observers said that while they had not seen any evidence of vote rigging on election day, they remained concerned about restrictions on journalists in the run-up to the vote, as well as irregularities in the counting process. Both the PML-N and the PPP accused security forces of expelling their election agents in some polling stations during Wednesday night’s count.

Michael Gahler, the EU’s chief observer, said: “Despite positive changes to the legal framework with the new Elections Act, and a stronger and more transparent election commission, we consider that the electoral process of 2018 was negatively affected by the political environment.”

Mr Khan has brushed off these accusations, calling the election “the most transparent and cleanest in Pakistan’s history”. But he has also offered to help investigate any individual allegations.

Reform promises

He has also promised to remake Pakistan when he does take office, pledging to reform public institutions, improve tax collection and spend more on public services.

“Today our state is in shambles. [But] all our policies aim to help the less fortunate prosper,” he said in a speech on Thursday night.

And in his first eye-catching announcement, he said he would turn over the prime minister’s spacious residence in Islamabad to public use. “I would be ashamed to live in such a large house,” he said. “That house will be converted into an educational institution or something of the sort.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018