Imran Khan secures historic win in Pakistan election

Decades of dominance by political dynasties upended by former cricket captain

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 claimed victory in Pakistan’s general election, a historic win that upends decades of dominance by the country’s two most-established political dynasties.

The former cricket captain on Thursday looked set to become prime minister within days following 24 hours of vote counting that put his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party ahead in more than 110 seats – within touching distance of an unexpected majority.

In doing so, he beat the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by Shehbaz Sharif, brother of the jailed former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), headed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of the late prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

But he faces the possibility of an immediate legal challenge following an election that his opponents say was marred by widespread manipulation by the country’s powerful security services on his behalf.

In a televised speech, Mr Khan promised to remake Pakistan as an “ideal state”, saying he would reduce inequality and strengthen state institutions.

“I have been given an opportunity to finally implement my manifesto which I have carried for 22 years since I entered politics,” he said.

“I entered politics because I believed that the potential of our country has been lost over the years. I want to make Pakistan an ideal state in line with the vision of Mr Jinnah,” he added, referring to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the country’s founder.

Mr Khan set up the PTI in 1996, four years after retiring from international cricket, on a platform of eradicating what he said was endemic corruption within Pakistani elites.

He looked set to take power in 2013 after a campaign that saw him greeted by crowds of tens of thousands of people. But his electrifying campaign on that occasion was followed by a disappointing third-place finish, which analysts said reflected the difficulties of breaking through in Pakistani politics, where votes are often decided by long-held family and tribal loyalties.

Army support

His victory this time comes weeks after his long-time opponent Nawaz Sharif was jailed on corruption charges initially brought to the courts by Mr Khan himself. But opponents also claim it was boosted by support from the army – something he and the army deny.

Both the PML-N and the PPP, as well as three smaller parties, have said their election agents were kept out of some polling booths during the count. They have also alleged their candidates were harassed during the campaign in an effort to make them switch allegiances to Mr Khan’s party.

Shehbaz Sharif rejected the results on Thursday, saying there had been “massive rigging” of the polls. He said his party would decide how to challenge the outcome in the coming days.

Mr Khan denied Mr Sharif’s accusation, calling the election “the most transparent and cleanest in Pakistan’s history”. He added that his government would help investigate any specific claims of malpractice.

When Mr Khan does take office, he will be confronted by an immediate economic problem in the country’s rapidly declining stocks of foreign currency. He will also have to negotiate a tricky relationship with US president Donald Trump, who has criticised Pakistan for not doing enough to tackle terrorism, but is also relying on Islamabad for co-operation with his country’s war in Afghanistan.

The US state department said it was disturbed by reports indicating that the elections might be compromised. “We are concerned by reports of constraints placed on freedoms of expression, association, and the press leading up to the elections,” said a US state department spokesperson. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018