Former prime minister Imran Khan yesterday reiterated his call for early general elections while urging Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja to resign, accusing him of bias and siding with the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
In a televised address to the nation following his party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI)’s stunning success in the crucial Punjab by-elections Sunday at the expense of PML-N, Khan claimed the rebound came despite the use of state machinery.
Of the 20 seats, PTI won 15, with the PML-N of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif taking four, and one going to an independent.
Sunday’s vote was also seen as a bellwether for national elections that must be held by October next year, although Khan has campaigned across the country for an earlier poll since being losing a controversial vote of no-confidence last April.
Dilating on the multiple crises that Pakistan faced, the PTI chairman asserted that the only way out was free and fair elections. But, he contended, these elections should not be conducted the way by-elections in Punjab were held.
“(During the by-polls) they used all the tactics to defeat us. Police threatened our people and officers acted as workers of PML-N,” he claimed, adding that Punjab Chief Minister Hamza Shehbaz had no right to manipulate the police.
He also made the ye-catching claim that there were four million deceased voters included in the electoral rolls.
Separately, the ex-PM alleged that the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) tried his best to turn the polls in favour of the PML-N.
“I am disappointed in the chief election commissioner. How could he let all this happen? He is not competent to run (the Election Commission of Pakistan) and is biased towards a political party. He should immediately resign.”
Betraying lack of confidence in the CEC, Khan cited the example of the Senate elections in 2021 in which he pointed to visual evidence of bribery, but where no action was undertaken.
“In Sindh’s (local government) elections, 15% of Pakistan People’s Party candidates won unopposed, yet nobody investigated it,” he pointed out. “During the Daska by-polls, the returning officer opened all the votes against PTI. He made us lose that election.”
The former PM said that despite several complaints of rigging during polls being brought before the CEC, he never punished anyone, which encouraged malpractice as no-one feared accountability.
Despite all these tactics, Khan said: “We won as people came out to cast their votes like never before”.
Khan reserved profuse praise for the youth and women, who, he said, came out in large numbers to help PTI contestants to win a landslide against the run of play.
“I believe this is the moment in Pakistan’s history that we should be thankful for because the nation has awakened,” he said, adding, “people have finally understood the ideology of Pakistan.”
Khan claimed that during his tenure an “artificial political crisis” was created.
“The PTI government was running smoothly and the economic survey report (released during the incumbent government’s rule) is proof. It said that after 17 years, our growth rate increased and all the indicators showed we were progressing.” Khan has drawn thousands to rallies since being ousted, giving lengthy speeches claiming the government was imposed on Pakistan by a US-led conspiracy.
He also blames the current government for soaring inflation, although most analysts agree Sharif inherited the country’s economic woes — which were given some relief last week by an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to resume a rescue package.
Pakistani newspapers suggested the Punjab result was a consequence of the economic hardships currently felt by the country, which is spending nearly half its income to service dire foreign debt. To meet IMF conditions for a resumption of a $7.2bn aid package, Sharif had to remove subsidies on fuel — effectively raising prices by more than 50% in less than two months. “A bitter taste of unpopular decisions,” read a headline in the influential Dawn newspaper over a front-page analysis.
The Punjab assembly vote was called after the election commission disqualified 20 members of the PTI for switching party loyalties.
The result means the likely end of a short reign as Punjab Chief Minister by Hamza Sharif, the prime minister’s son.
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