Imran Khan supporters ‘here to stay’ as young Pakistanis turn out to vote


That support base, at odds with powerful army generals, has been grappling with a military-backed crackdown. The party alleges the crackdown gathered pace ahead of Thursday’s vote as the military sought to keep it out of the race, a charge the army denies.

Some analysts and voters have said that public perception of military involvement in politics may have driven Khan supporters to the polls, alongside frustration at months of soaring inflation and anger at the three prison sentences Khan has received.

“One of the reasons the military may be concerned is that there are signs of some genuine grassroots support,” said Maya Tudor, associate professor at the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford, adding the mobile services suspension on election day, after authorities had reassured people there would be no blanket communications failure, was a possible sign of worry.

Marwat, the law student, said she joined PTI in 2016 and cast her first vote for it in 2018, drawn by its leader who she saw as being “true” to Pakistan. Khan’s sentences galvanised her and many of her peers, she said.

“Haven’t you seen the other great leaders? Like Nelson Mandela? … there are so many great leaders who have been in prison and they are suffering a lot,” she said. “But things change.”

Pakistan’s elections have long been marred by accusations of rigging and the imprisoning of political figures. While the turbulence is not new, analysts and supporters say PTI’s responsive campaign that cuts across demographics is.

With its celebrity sportsman figurehead and social media presence, PTI is also popular with Pakistan’s huge youth population that is growing every election cycle. Newspaper Dawn estimated Pakistan added 10 million since the 2018 election.

One of them, software engineering student Nayaba Akhtar, 21, said she was inspired to vote for a PTI-backed independent.

“It feels great,” she said. “I’m sad Imran Khan isn’t here, but I’m happy my first vote is for Imran Khan.”

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