Campaigning starts in Pakistan’s delayed national polls


“ACCEPTABLE TO THE ESTABLISHMENT”

The poll will take place amid increasing militant attacks and an economic nosedive that has ravaged the rupee and sent the cost of living soaring.

Originally due in November, the election commission delayed the vote in order to redraw constituencies after a new census.

Analysts suggest the hold-up has benefitted the powerful army establishment seen as the chief architects of an ongoing crackdown denting the prospects of Khan and PTI.

“It’s going to be a controversial election: one party sees it as a complete negation of democracy,” Tufts University history professor Ayesha Jalal told AFP.

Nawaz Sharif did not appear at Monday’s rally and has been largely absent from the public eye since returning from self-imposed exile in Britain late last year.

Since then the 74-year-old – last ousted in 2017 – has seen the myriad corruption cases plaguing him dissolve in the courts, an apparent sign of his reformed relationship with the army establishment.

The military has directly ruled Pakistan for decades of its history and continues to wield huge influence behind the scenes.

Onetime cricket star Khan blames the army for an avalanche of court cases burying him since he was ousted by a no-confidence vote in 2022 – saying they were triggered to prevent his return to power.

He is currently jailed and has separately been barred from standing for election on the basis of a graft conviction.

Despite a narrowing margin, a Gallup Pakistan poll taken in December showed 71-year-old Khan still has a five-point lead over Sharif in approval ratings.

“Khan thinks that just because he’s ‘popular’ he deserves the key to the helm of state authority,” said history professor Jalal.

“Unfortunately in Pakistan it’s not just popularity that counts, it’s your acceptability to a security-conscious establishment.”



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