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Khan promises change amid rigging complaints

Shamil Shams Islamabad
July 26, 2018

Pakistan's major political parties have rejected the election results amid rigging allegations. A possible agitation from these groups may make life difficult for PM-elect Imran Khan. Shamil Shams reports from Islamabad.

Supporters of cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan
Image: Reuters/F. Mahmood

In his "victory speech" on Thursday, Prime Minister-elect Imran Khan promised wide-ranging reforms to build a "new Pakistan." He touched upon a number of pressing issues, including better governance, security affairs and ties with global powers and neighboring countries.

Khan spoke from the heart during the speech. He promised to end rampant corruption, nepotism, and pledged that economic benefits would trickle down to the masses under his government.

Read more: Opinion: Imran Khan's dangerous victory

Khan vows to run Pakistan 'like never before'

On Thursday, hundreds of Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, Movement for Justice) supporters flocked to their leader's residence in Bani Gala, an Islamabad suburb, celebrating the party's electoral victory. The PTI, according to official results, has managed to win 114 seats in the 272-strong National Assembly (lower house of parliament), compared to 63 by its nearest rival.

Khan needs the support of independent and some smaller parties' members to form a government, which analysts say he can easily do.

There is a sense of hope among many Pakistanis, who expect their country to progress when conservative politician Khan takes the reins of the country sometime early next month.

"He is not like others, nothing like traditional politicians [jailed former Prime Minister] Nawaz Sharif and [former President] Asif Ali Zardari. He feels for common people’s problems," a waiter at Islamabad’s upmarket Serena Hotel told DW.

Sadiq Kakakhel, an engineer residing in the US, told DW he had just come to Pakistan to cast his vote.

"I am in a great mood because the figure trickling in indicates that Khan has won the election," Kakakhel said.

"I voted for him because we need someone who isn’t corrupt, who can build hospitals and schools," he added.

How clean was the election?

Khan’s speech, in which he talked about following the Chinese economic model to reform his country, was in sharp contrast to the mood in the opposition camp. Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) rejected the election results, citing massive poll rigging and voting irregularities.

The Pakistan People's Party (PPP), headed by late Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's son, Bilawal, also complained of rigging across the country. Some religious parties too said they were not satisfied with the voting process and election results.

Khan has already been accused of receiving indirect support from the country's powerful military — a claim denied by both Khan and the army. Sharif’s supporters say their party was not given a level playing field in the run-up to the elections, with the judiciary exclusively targeting PML-N officials and the caretaker government unleashing a massive crackdown on PML-N activists following Sharif’s return from the UK and his subsequent arrest.

"Most political parties have challenged the fairness and transparency of the July 25 general election. The PML-N rejects the results," Asif Kirmani, a Sharif aide, told DW.

"I was one of the election observers at a polling station. I can confirm that some 'polling agents' were not allowed inside voting centers when the votes were counted," Abubakkar Yousafzai, who works for the independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Karachi, wrote on Facebook. "Polling agents" in Pakistan are representatives of political parties, who are required to be present during the vote count to make sure the polls are not rigged.

The European Union’s election observers have expressed their relative satisfaction about Wednesday’s polling.

Former HRCP director IA Rahman, however, suggested the vote was rigged.

"The worst kind of pre-poll rigging has happened. Also, people think that elections are only about voting. Actually, the run-up to an election determines its fairness. We see that a certain party is being favored by the establishment," Lahore-based Rahman told DW.

But Liaqat Shahwani, an Islamabad-based political analyst, says the Sharif camp's claims are groundless.

"The PML-N's narrative about the military establishment favoring certain parties has collapsed. Election results prove that many parties that were allegedly backed by the establishment have lost badly," Shahwani told DW.

"Also, PML-N's officials requested the election commission to extend voting time to one additional hour. You only want it when you are satisfied with the voting process," he argued.

Read more: Pakistan election: Islamist parties benefit from political polarization

Potential protests

The main question now is whether Sharif's party would take to the streets to protest alleged rigging. The PML-N secured some 60 seats in parliament and has emerged as the second-largest party. The third-largest party, the PPP, and the PML-N could join forces and launch a protest movement in the coming days. If that happened, Imran Khan would face a big challenge from the opposition and would find it difficult to implement his agenda.

In 2015, Khan, as opposition leader, staged massive rallies in Islamabad, outside the prime minister’s house, accusing then premier Sharif of coming to power through a rigged vote.

Today's opposition could adopt a similar strategy to put pressure on the next government. The PML-N, in particular, probably has no other option than agitation. Sharif and his daughter Maryam Nawaz were sentenced to 10 and seven years in prison earlier this month on corruption charges, and the defeat in Wednesday’s polls has also dashed the hopes of their release. Only mass protests could see them out of prison.