Imran Khan takes firm lead in Pakistani election marred by violence and rigging claims

Pakistan's cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (Movement for Justice) speaks to the media after casting his vote at a polling station during the general election in Islamabad on July 25, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 26 July 2018

Imran Khan takes firm lead in Pakistani election marred by violence and rigging claims

  • PML-N crise foul, says 'this is not an election, it is complete selection'
  • PPP says reports of voting irregularities can render 'the whole election null and void'

LAHORE: Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan is set to emerge victorious from Pakistan’s general elections, as unofficial early results on Wednesday night indicated he had taken the lead in a political contest marred by allegations of rigging by the main political parties.
The vote is proving to be a close fight between Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), led by jailed former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
“God willing, PTI will emerge as the single largest party in Parliament,” said Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the party’s vice-chairman. “I congratulate Imran Khan.”
But victory in the election, which marks only the second time that power in Pakistan has been transferred from one civilian government to another, will be tempered by unprecedented allegations of voting irregularities. Leaders of all political parties other than PTI said voters were not given the required forms on time and that polling agents, party volunteers who monitor the count, had been forced out of polling stations, leaving security officials free, potentially, to tamper with the vote.
About 800,000 law-enforcement officials, including 371,388 soldiers, were deployed to protect and facilitate the vote.
PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif said that his party will reject the election results over concerns of rigging.
“This is not an election, it is complete selection,” said PML-N Sen. Mushahid Hussain Sayed. “A great disservice has been done to Pakistan. This is the dirtiest election in the history of Pakistan.”
Sherry Rehman, the leader of the opposition in the upper house of Parliament and a senior leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), said the widespread reports of voting irregularities had the potential to render “the whole election null and void.”
Violence also cast a shadow over election day. At least 31 people were killed in a suicide bombing outside a polling station in the southwestern Baluchistan province. There were also clashes in all four provinces between supporters of the various parties, in which at least two people were killed.
The run-up to the election was also bloody. A suicide bomber killed 151 people, including Balochistan Awami Party candidate Siraj Raisani, at a rally in Baluchistan’s Mastung area this month. Ikramullah Gandapur, a candidate for PTI, and Haroon Bilour, who was standing for the secular Awami National Party, were assassinated in separate attacks in northwestern Pakistan.
In addition, the election has been plagued by widespread allegations that the army was working behind the scenes to skew the contest in Khan’s favor. Sharif, who was jailed on corruption charges this month, has long had tense relations with the military and accuses army chiefs of orchestrating his conviction.
But despite the threat of violence and some public disenchantment over the allegations of rigging, at least half of the country’s 106 million registered voters turned out to cast their ballots for the 272 parliamentary seats.
“A lot has been written dismissing Pakistan’s election as a sham but there are scores of women, grandparents and great grandparents queuing today to cast their vote even in the face of news of violence from Quetta,” said Fahd Humayun, a researcher at Jinnah Institute. “This is the resilience of this country and its people.”
Women in the Dir, Kohistan, and North and South Waziristan regions made history by voting for the first time. Media footage showed disabled people arriving to vote across the country, and one news channel followed the election experiences of a team of wrestlers and two grooms who left their weddings to cast ballots. A teenage girl took her mother on a motorcycle to vote for Khan, she said, because public transport was not available.
Khan, whose appeal rests mainly on a fierce anti-corruption crusade, took the lead as the unofficial results started to come in on Wednesday night. Television news projections predicted his party would win up to 115 of the 272 elected seats on offer. With PML-N trailing on just 70 seats, it seemed clear that Sharif’s election slogan, “Give Respect to the Vote,” had failed to resonate with common Pakistanis.
In Lahore, the capital of what is traditionally Sharif’s Punjab power base, Khan’s supporters danced in the streets, waving flags bearing his image, honking horns and firing celebratory gunshots.
“I voted for Imran Khan because he is not corrupt and he has never been given a chance before,” Mustafa Abbas, a web developer, said outside a polling station on Wednesday afternoon. “We know all the other candidates and parties. Now it’s time to test out Imran.”
At another polling station, Samra Aslam, 53, said she was voting for Sharif because he had brought development to the country. Sharif’s PML-N party is known for its large-scale infrastructure projects and energy projects that have reduced crippling power cuts.
“Nawaz has been dealt with unfairly just because he won’t bow before the generals,” Aslam said. “By voting for him, we are voting against this trend of victimizing political leaders.”
Even if Khan wins and faces no obstacles in forming a government, he will have to deal with a currency crisis, a record trade deficit and enduring threats from militants. For years now, he has called for less dependence on the US, but it remains to be seen how he will manage Pakistan’s stormy relationship with Washington, as well as with rivals India and Afghanistan.
The Americans will be particularly concerned about the outcome of the election, given that Khan famously said he would order the Pakistani military to shoot down American drones if he came to power, and advocated negotiations with Pakistani Taliban fighters rather than military operations against them.
There are also questions over how successfully he can work with the army, and how much he would concede to the military in policy-making.
“Imran Khan doesn’t have many friends or allies; he’s not someone who really knows how to work with people,” said Mohammad Malick, a popular political talk show host, referring to Khan’s famous stubbornness. “So he will need a lot of help from the military not just to convince smaller parties and independent candidates to help him form the government but, once in power, to push reforms and enact policy. He won’t be able to work without the military.”
If that is the case, it would only mean more political power for a military that directly ruled Pakistan for almost half its history and already has a significant role in foreign and national security policymaking.
Khan’s triumph, however, signals a victory against dynastic politics. The Sharifs have dominated Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, since the 1980s, and Nawaz Sharif has been prime minister three times. The other loser in this regard is Bilawal Bhutto Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party, whose mother and grandfather are former prime ministers.
In addition, in a landscape long closed off to disruptive, new voices, several political novices jumped into the fray during this election cycle, including social workers, lawyers, political activists and an unprecedented number of people from the transgender community. Hundreds of candidates from militant-linked groups also ran.
However, despite the violence and allegations of rigging, observers said this election could have historic repercussions for Pakistani democracy.
“When an election is believed to be unfree and unfair, knowing that the procedural aspects of the election have been carried out successfully offers little consolation,” said Kugelman. “At the same time, it’s unfair to conclude that democracy is a lost cause in Pakistan simply because it struggles to carry out a clean election. This election is a democratic milestone.”


British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

Updated 7 sec ago

British PM Johnson: My job is to ‘keep going’

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defied growing calls for him to step down on Wednesday, telling lawmakers he would “keep going” following a wave of resignations from his government including those of two key ministers.
Johnson made the remarks in parliament in response to a question from a lawmaker in his own party who asked if the prime minister thought there were any circumstances in which he should resign.
“Clearly, if there were circumstances in which I felt it was impossible for the government to go on and discharge the mandate that we’ve been given, or if I felt, for instance, that we were being frustrated in our desire to support the Ukrainian people ... then I would,” Johnson told parliament.
“But frankly, the job of a prime minister in difficult circumstances when you’ve been handed a colossal mandate is to keep going,” Johnson said. “And that’s what I’m going to do.”

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

Updated 4 min 5 sec ago

Taliban leader: Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks

  • Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries

ISLAMABAD: Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada said Wednesday that Afghan soil will not be used to launch attacks against other countries, and he asked the international community to not interfere in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.
The Taliban say they are adhering to an agreement they signed with the United States in 2020 — before retaking power — in which they promised to fight terrorists. Since their takeover last year, they have repeatedly said Afghanistan would not be used as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.
“We assure our neighbors, the region and the world that we will not allow anyone to use our territory to threaten the security of other countries. We also want other countries not to interfere in our internal affairs,” Akhundzada said in an address ahead of the Eid Al-Adha holiday.
The Taliban were ousted by a US-led coalition in 2001 for harboring Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks in the United States. The religious group captured power again in mid-August, during the chaotic last weeks of the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The international community has been wary of any recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, especially after they restricted the rights of women and minorities — measures that harken back to their harsh rule when they were last in power in the late 1990s.
Akhundzada, the spiritual chief of the Taliban, has remained a reclusive figure. He rose to leader of the Islamist movement in a swift transition of power after a 2016 US drone strike killed his predecessor, Mullah Akhtar Mansour.
After taking over, Akhundzada secured the backing of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who showered the cleric with praise, calling him “the emir of the faithful.” The endorsement by bin Laden’s heir helped seal his jihadist credentials with the Taliban’s longtime allies.
However, in his Eid message Akhundzada said: “Within the framework of mutual interaction and commitment, we want good, diplomatic, economic and political relations with the world, including the United States, and we consider this in the interest of all sides.”
A three-day assembly of Islamic clerics and tribal elders in the Afghan capital that concluded Saturday included pledges of support for the Taliban and calls on the international community to recognize the country’s Taliban-led government.
In a surprise development, the reclusive Akhundzada came to Kabul from his base in southern Kandahar province and addressed the gathering Friday. It was believed to be his first visit to the Afghan capital since the Taliban seized power.
In an hour-long speech at the assembly carried by state radio, Akhundzada called the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan a “victory for the Muslim world.”
A powerful earthquake in June killed more than 1,000 people in eastern Afghanistan, igniting yet another crisis for the economically struggling country. Overstretched aid groups already keeping millions of Afghans alive rushed supplies to the quake victims, but most countries responded tepidly to Taliban calls for international help.
The international cut-off of Afghanistan’s financing has deepened the country’s economic collapse and fueled its humanitarian crises.


China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

Updated 06 July 2022

China foreign minister seeks ‘new golden era’ of ties with Philippines

  • Many analysts saw the election of Ferdinand Marcos Jr as more favorable to China than the US

MANILA: China’s foreign minister said on Wednesday Beijing was ready to work with new Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr to help usher in what he called a “new golden era” in the countries’ relationship.
That relationship “turned a new page” with the election of Marcos, said Wang Yi, who is visiting Southeast Asia at a time when Philippines ally the United States is seeking to boost its influence in the region.
“We highly appreciate President Marcos’ recent commitment to pursuing friendly policy toward China and we speak highly of these recent statements that have sent out a very positive signal to the outside world,” Wang said in a meeting with his Philippines counterpart, Enrique Manalo. Many analysts saw the election of Marcos, the son of the late strongman ousted in a 1986 uprising, as more favorable to China than the United States, but the new president has been clear in public statements that close ties with Beijing will not be at the expense of sovereignty.
China’s assertiveness and conduct in waters off the Philippines has long been a source of diplomatic tension, but Marcos on Tuesday said he wanted their relationship to be about more than a maritime dispute.
Wang said China was one with Marcos in his desire to deepen and strengthen ties.
“We are ready to work toward that same direction with the Philippines and to plan for our cooperation going forward in all areas,” Wang said.
“I’m confident that with the two sides working together, we can surely open a new golden era for the bilateral relationship.”
Marcos has a tricky balancing act in boosting business ties with China while maintaining a close relationship with defense ally the United States, a former colonial power that still holds considerable sway among the military and the public.


July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

Updated 06 July 2022

July 4 gunman charged with seven counts of murder

  • Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd

HIGHLAND PARK, United States: A 21-year-old man who allegedly opened fire on a July 4 parade in a wealthy Chicago suburb while disguised in women’s clothing was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday, prosecutors said.
Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd.
“There will be more charges,” Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart told reporters. “We anticipate dozens of more charges centered around each of the victims.”
Police spokesman Christopher Covelli said the death toll rose to seven on Tuesday after one of the wounded victims died in hospital. More than 35 people were injured.
Among the dead were Kevin McCarthy, 37, and his wife, Irina, 35 — the parents of a two-year-old boy who was found wandering alone after the shooting, according to CBS News.
Covelli said no motive had been established for the attack, which sent panicked parade-goers fleeing for their lives.
“We do believe Crimo pre-planned this attack for several weeks,” and that he acted alone, he said.
“We have no information to suggest at this point it was racially motivated, motivated by religion or any other protected status,” he added.
He said Crimo has a history of mental health issues and threatening behavior.
Police had been called twice to Crimo’s home in 2019, once to investigate a suicide attempt and the second time because a relative said he had threatened to “kill everyone” in the family, he said.
Police removed 16 knives, a dagger and a sword from the home but did not make any arrests, he said.
Covelli said Crimo used a fire escape to access the roof of a building overlooking the parade route and fired more than 70 rounds from a rifle “similar to an AR-15,” one of several guns he had purchased legally.
“Crimo was dressed in women’s clothing and investigators believe he did this to conceal his facial tattoos and his identity and help him during the escape with the other people who were fleeing the chaos,” he said.
Covelli said Crimo went to his mother’s nearby home after the shooting and borrowed her car. He was captured about eight hours later after a brief chase.
He also said the authorities were investigating disturbing online posts and videos made by Crimo.
The shooting has left the upscale suburb in shock.
“We’re all still reeling,” Mayor Nancy Rotering told NBC’s Today show. “Everybody knows somebody who was affected by this directly.”
The mayor said she personally knew the suspected gunman when he was a young boy in the Cub Scouts.
“How did somebody become this angry, this hateful to then take it out on innocent people who literally were just having a family day out?” Rotering asked.
Crimo, whose father unsuccessfully ran for mayor and owns a store in Highland Park called Bob’s Pantry and Deli, was an amateur musician billing himself as “Awake the Rapper.”
The younger Crimo’s online postings include violent content that alluded to guns and shootings.
One YouTube video posted eight months ago featured cartoons of a gunman and people being shot.
“I need to just do it,” a voice-over says.
It adds: “It is my destiny. Everything has led up to this. Nothing can stop me, not even myself.”
Crimo, who has the word “Awake” tattooed over an eyebrow, is seen sporting an “FBI” hat in numerous photos and a Trump flag as a cape in one picture.
The shooting is the latest in a wave of gun violence plaguing the United States, where approximately 40,000 deaths a year are caused by firearms, according to the Gun Violence Archive.


Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’

Updated 06 July 2022

Russian foreign minister Lavrov says Putin-Macron call leak breached ‘diplomatic etiquette’

  • ‘Diplomatic etiquette does not provide for unilateral leaks of (such) recordings’
  • Sergei Lavrov: Moscow had nothing to be ashamed of from the content of the conversation between the two leaders

HANOI: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that the publication of a call between President Emmanuel Macron and Russian leader Vladimir Putin was a breach of “diplomatic etiquette.”
“Diplomatic etiquette does not provide for unilateral leaks of (such) recordings,” Lavrov said on a trip to Vietnam.
The details of the confidential call days before Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine were revealed by the broadcaster France 2 in a documentary on the French president’s handling of the conflict.
Lavrov said Russia had nothing to be ashamed of from the content of the conversation between the two leaders.
“We in principle lead negotiations in such a way that we never have anything to be ashamed of. We always say what we think and are ready to answer for these words and explain our position,” he said.
Lavrov is on a two-day visit to Vietnam, on the tenth anniversary of the two nations’ “comprehensive strategic partnership.”
Vietnam, historically close to Moscow, has so far declined to outright condemn Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.