ISLAMABAD: The participation of main opposition leader and former Prime Minister Imran Khan in Pakistan’s general election set for January next year remains doubtful. Khan, winner of the last election in 2018, remains in jail after being convicted in a graft case in August despite his three-year sentence being suspended by a court.
Here are some facts about the options for Khan, 70, who is the country’s most popular party leader according to independent opinion polls:
BARRED FROM PUBLIC OFFICE
Khan, 70, remains barred from holding public office for five years due to his conviction, despite the suspension of his jail sentence. The bar will remain in place until his conviction is overturned by the high court, where he has appealed, a situation that currently rules him out of the January elections.
It remains unclear if his appeal will be decided in time for the next election, but aside from this graft case, the former cricket star faces dozens of other serious cases, too, which carry sentences from five years up to a death penalty.
STATE SECRETS CASE
Khan remains in judicial custody for a case related to leaking state secrets, which is at a pre-trial stage being heard by a special court that holds proceedings at a prison where he’s detained on security grounds. This week, another court allowed police to add sedition charges against him in two cases related to abetting attacks against military installations on May 9 by his supporters to protest against his brief arrest.
KHAN’S PTI WEAKENED
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party can still contest the elections and will seek to tap into a sympathy vote, but it has been severely hobbled by the departure of key leaders in the aftermath of the May violence and the crackdown that ensued.
In Khan’s absence, the PTI was being led by former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, but he too has been arrested in the state secrets case.
ROLE OF THE MILITARY
Analysts say the military-backed caretaker government, which has been questioned by the election commission over its credibility, wouldn’t let Khan bounce back, especially as independent polls show him to be the most popular party leader, a standing that could earn the PTI a good showing in January’s election.
Khan and his party continue to accuse the military of being behind his ousting and the crackdown.
The military, which according to analysts brought Khan to power in 2018, denies being behind his removal. His criticism of the armed forces and its top brass has not eased, and his appeals to the military to open talks with him haven’t yielded a response.
The military’s support remains key to anyone looking to attain power in Pakistan.