Imran Khan wants to create a 'New Pakistan,' many fear more of the same

Former international cricket star and socialite Imran Khan is confident that a victory in Pakistan's general election...

Posted: Jul 25, 2018 3:09 PM
Updated: Jul 25, 2018 3:09 PM

Former international cricket star and socialite Imran Khan is confident that a victory in Pakistan's general elections on Wednesday will kick start a revolution for a country bedeviled by corruption and insecurity.

But while several polls put Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Justice Movement) marginally ahead -- the result, his rivals allege, of covert support from the country's powerful military establishment -- other surveys suggest the result is too close to call.

Analysts are also divided over whether a win for Khan's PTI would actually be that substantially different to a return to power for its chief rival, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the party of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Many experts contend that it will be business as usual whoever wins the election, with the military -- which has ruled the country directly or indirectly for much of its 71-year history -- remaining Pakistan's de facto ruler.

Pakistan election: Who is likely to be the country's next leader?

Close race

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the US-based Wilson Center, said that the military remains "very much ensconced" at the upper echelons of power in Pakistan.

"It remains powerful and popular, even amid allegations of election meddling, and the most likely election outcome -- a weak coalition government -- is the military's best-case scenario," he said.

This weeks vote comes amid growing fears of renewed political instability in Pakistan as it faces a multi-billion dollar debt crisis and tilts away from the West towards China, which has granted it billions of dollars in expensive loans for infrastructure projects.

The polls have been overshadowed by terrorist attacks, hundreds of arrests and accusations of widespread interference by the military. They have also seen a massive crackdown on the media and controversy over militant groups' electoral participation.

Tensions increased earlier this month when Sharif was jailed for 10 years on corruption-related charges which led to his removal from office last year.

He has claimed the military is aiding a "judicial witch-hunt" to prevent the ruling PML-N -- now led by his brother and election candidate Shahbaz Sharif -- from winning a second term in power.

In deliberate contrast to the scandal-dogged Sharif family, Khan has campaigned for a "New Pakistan" on a reformist, anti-corruption ticket, arguing the country is clamoring for a clean, nationalist government and a clean break with the past.

The 65-year-old has batted away allegations of covert support from the military, although his cricket references to "neutral umpires" and a "level playing-field" have become fewer on the campaign trail.

"I speak to a public that understands issues like corruption and how it impacts their lives," he said earlier this month. "They now understand (the) correlation between corruption (and) poverty, unemployment (and) inflation."

Potential for change

Khan has pledged to break the decades-old two party "status quo" of PML-N and its historical rival, the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), which is expected to finish in third place.

His campaign has caught the imaginations of young and middle-class Pakistanis. In 2013, he broke through from relative political obscurity, with PTI becoming the country's third biggest party, taking control of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

Banking on his celebrity as the man who brought home the Cricket World Cup in 1992, and his philanthropic record of building hospitals that provide cancer treatment for the poor, the Oxford-educated heartthrob is now riding high.

Khan has "several faces, as a sportsman and a hero, it's one of the reasons for his popularity -- his charisma," said journalist and author Zahid Hussain.

Some see a Khan victory in 2018 as a potential watershed moment for Pakistan.

"Since it would be the first time that the hold of the PML-N/PPP is broken, it would by definition represent a change," said Madiha Afzal, a Brookings Institution fellow.

"Khan's politics significantly diverges from the two parties, so his victory could signal a change in politics as usual."

Afzal added Khan's emphasis on anti-corruption and improving education and health services differs from the policies of the main two parties, as does his conservatism.

"He is far farther to the right than both, even the PML-N which was traditionally known as center-right," she said.

Of particular concern to liberals has been Khan's support for the death sentence for those convicted under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law and his support for legislation persecuting the country's Ahmadis -- a minority Muslim movement -- as heretics.

"Khan's policy positions -- from his deep opposition to the PML-N and refusal to criticize the military to his strong support for resolving the Kashmir crisis -- align sharply with those of the army," said Kugelman, the Wilson Center analyst, referring to India and Pakistan's long-running dispute over Kashmir.

Politics as usual?

While Khan may differ from his rivals on paper, some analysts said he may be hampered in any attempt to deliver on his agenda because of the host of weathervane politicians with questionable loyalty he has recruited.

"He will be surrounded by turncoats. How can he control these people? They have no loyalty or ideological commitment," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a veteran political observer.

His recruitment of "electables" has been part of his bid to crack the PML-N's grasp on its political stronghold, Punjab, the country's wealthiest and most populous province.

Analysts are uncertain if the gambit has paid off as the PML-N, energized by Sharif's jailing, has drawn large crowds of supporters to rallies in the province, whereas Khan's have been relatively muted.

It's still unclear whether Sharif's jailing may yet drive voters angry over Pakistan's rampant corruption into supporting PTI.

Sharif's jailing could benefit his party, however, with some analysts saying it could make PML-N more palatable to the military now it is controlled by his brother.

"Shahbaz has indicated that he'll work with the military establishment; so he won't press his hand on foreign policy or on non-state militant groups," said Afzal of Brookings.

As chief minister of Punjab province, Shahbaz Sharif won plaudits as an administrator, in particular for developing infrastructure. "He could be a pretty successful prime minister," Afzal added.

Uncertain future

Almost all analysts agreed an outright win for either party was unlikely, meaning Pakistan will be left with a coalition government, likely the PPP -- led by the 29-year-old political scion Bilawal Bhutto Zardari -- propping up one of the other parties.

"It's been quite some time since Pakistan's political environment has been this fraught and polarized, so I imagine that any coalition will be fractious and divided," said Kugelman.

"Given the pressing policy challenges that Pakistan faces now, a weak coalition would be bad news and quite dangerous as well. Pakistan is confronting a growing economic crisis rooted in falling reserves and balance of payment problems."

No elected prime minister has ever served a full five-year tenure, even when they appeared to have the full backing of the military establishment.

"When one of these puppets has subsequently sought to cut their strings after coming into power, they have been overthrown by another, invariably in partnership with the military and judiciary," said Tom Hussain, a political commentator and journalist.

Sharif experienced this, and analysts predicted the same fate could await Khan should he succeed in becoming Pakistan's leader.

"Certain traits of his -- his lack of desire to conduct politics as usual, his stubbornness -- will mean that should his relationship with the military sour or cool off, he might falter more quickly than politicians in the past, and more badly," said Afzal. "But once in power, he could also adapt."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 159036

Reported Deaths: 3879
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10563104
Hinds10414204
Harrison7397113
Jackson6655128
Rankin6057107
Lee540396
Madison5120107
Forrest394786
Jones376188
Lauderdale3663147
Lafayette341053
Washington3321108
Lamar301950
Oktibbeha255262
Lowndes252867
Bolivar248084
Panola237353
Neshoba2280122
Marshall225051
Leflore211191
Monroe209778
Pontotoc208131
Lincoln200566
Sunflower194155
Warren183058
Tate180451
Union172926
Copiah170840
Pike166760
Scott161330
Yazoo161340
Itawamba159936
Alcorn159328
Pearl River158969
Coahoma155943
Prentiss154931
Simpson154053
Adams147252
Grenada145445
Leake141844
Holmes134461
Covington130040
Tippah130030
George129525
Winston128726
Hancock127641
Wayne123024
Attala122834
Marion121447
Tishomingo114043
Chickasaw110732
Newton110529
Tallahatchie99427
Clay96127
Clarke94853
Jasper87023
Stone82015
Calhoun79513
Walthall79330
Montgomery78426
Carroll75515
Lawrence74614
Smith74216
Yalobusha74228
Noxubee73317
Perry68726
Tunica63019
Greene62422
Jefferson Davis59617
Claiborne59216
Amite57615
Humphreys55219
Quitman5107
Benton50418
Kemper48018
Webster47714
Wilkinson40722
Jefferson38312
Choctaw3637
Franklin3635
Sharkey32917
Issaquena1214
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 256828

Reported Deaths: 3711
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson34214511
Mobile20299366
Madison13925150
Tuscaloosa13591156
Montgomery12659238
Shelby1095877
Baldwin9163137
Lee792566
Morgan710851
Etowah677467
Calhoun6695121
Marshall665757
Houston548239
DeKalb504738
Cullman472043
St. Clair451857
Limestone447546
Lauderdale436054
Elmore427564
Walker3818111
Talladega374457
Jackson350723
Colbert336443
Blount310043
Autauga287342
Franklin259734
Coffee254115
Dale242054
Dallas232932
Chilton230841
Russell22813
Covington227934
Escambia206131
Tallapoosa189191
Chambers185950
Pike162214
Clarke161819
Marion146136
Winston141924
Lawrence135336
Pickens127720
Geneva12638
Marengo125224
Bibb123938
Barbour120629
Butler118842
Randolph105922
Cherokee105524
Hale99732
Fayette96316
Clay93525
Washington93319
Henry8946
Monroe83811
Lowndes82129
Cleburne79914
Macon76522
Crenshaw72930
Conecuh72414
Lamar7138
Bullock70919
Perry6927
Wilcox64918
Sumter58922
Greene44218
Choctaw43519
Coosa3724
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 47°
Columbus
Overcast
46° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 42°
Oxford
Overcast
41° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 36°
Starkville
Overcast
43° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 43°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather