Elections 2024: “Imran not on the ballot, but still on Pakistan’s mind”

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Elections 2024: "Imran not on the ballot, but still on Pakistan's mind"

This week, Pakistan will vote in an election that professionals say is seriously flawed if former prime minister Imran Khan is not present. While his name may not be on the ballot, he will be on everyone’s minds.

 A former international cricket star was officially barred from an election that never seemed likely to happen after receiving three important prison terms in less than a week and a ten-year ban from politics.

When Khan became prime minister in 2018, he had the backing of the people, but a no-confidence vote in April 2022 forced him out of office.

After his first detention, he began a daring and unheard-of campaign of rebelling, but it ended when his followers vandalized an army commander’s office in May of last year.

He was detained once more and has since disputed around 200 cases in court, claiming the allegations against him were made up to prevent him from joining politics.

His party says that Khan, who was found guilty of treason, corruption, and violating Islamic law by getting married for the third time, is a target of a character assassination attempt by the establishment to prevent his rising popularity.

Rarely seen in public, faith healer Bushra Bibi wedded Khan just before he was elected in 2018 after becoming his spiritual guide.

Along with Khan, she was found guilty of graft and disobeying “iddat,” which states that a divorced lady must wait three months before marrying again.

It would be simple to write off the flamboyant 71-year-old’s political future given his imprisonment and the fact that his party was badly damaged in Thursday’s survey.

As the national captain, Khan won cricket matches from seemingly impossible positions, and Pakistan has also seen the conviction of many leaders for lengthy prison terms that are later overturned when they return to power.

Although he is still highly regarded, Khan’s leadership over the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is no longer guaranteed.

How well PTI candidates fare this week—they had to run as independents after the party lost its cricket bat symbol—may provide insight into Khan’s length of prison.

Millions of cricket fans who grew up watching him play, where he was a brilliant all-rounder who helped his country win the World Cup in 1992, put votes for him.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), two often hostile groups that banded forces to oust him, lost decades of dominance to the PTI.

Khan envisaged Pakistan as a welfare state modeled after the Islamic Golden Age, which lasted from the seventh through the fourteenth centuries and was characterized by the growth of culture, science, and economics in the Muslim world.

But with a low rupee hindering economic reform galloping inflation and debilitating debt, he made little headway toward tackling Pakistan’s financial situation.

Under his rule, human rights groups condemned the restriction of media freedoms, with television news networks unofficially prohibited from presenting the opinions of his opponents.

He encounters many of the same obstacles now that the roles have reversed.

Son of a rich Lahore family, Khan attended Oxford and was known as a playboy after leaving international cricket. In an effort to honor his mother, he spent years occupied with charitable endeavors, raising millions of dollars to construct a cancer hospital.

He started politics secretly and held the PTI’s only parliamentary seat for several years.

The party grew under General Pervez Musharraf’s military-led government and the civilian one that succeeded it. It emerged as a force in the 2013 elections and gained a majority five years later.

He also attacked his political rivals, imprisoning some well-known PPP and PML-N numbers for corruption while in office. Since Khan stepped down, other individuals—such as front-runner in the election, Nawaz Sharif—have been released or had the charges against them dropped.

Frequently described as impulsive and brave, Khan often uses cricket analogies to explain his political battles. “I fight until the very last ball,” he said during a TV interview.

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