World

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

2024.02.09 12:20

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© Reuters. Volunteers for former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s get together Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) look on as they watch outcomes on TV screens after the top of the polling throughout a common election on the get together’s most important workplace in Islamabad, Pakistan, February 8, 2024.

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By Charlotte Greenfield and Ariba Shahid

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Below big wall-mounted pictures of jailed former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Naila Khan Marwat cheered with scores of young volunteers on election night time each time counts on TV channels urged their candidate was within the lead.

Then she returned to her laptop computer to acquire complaints of alleged electoral guidelines violations from candidates, compiled with 50 different young ladies to give to get together legal professionals launching authorized challenges.

Marwat, 26, labored till the early hours of Friday on the get together headquarters in Pakistan’s capital, monitoring the outcomes intently, a extra complicated process than ordinary after former cricket hero Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters have been barred from operating as PTI candidates and utilizing the cricket bat get together image. They had to run as independents.

“We have memorised all of the symbols and all the names of our candidates,” said Marwat, a law student. “We know every candidate and every symbol.”

Pakistan voted on Thursday in a critical general election as it struggles to recover from an economic crisis and battles militant violence in a deeply polarised political environment.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif declared victory on Friday, saying his party has emerged as the largest and would talk to other groups to form a coalition government.

Final results were unclear due to an unusual counting delay, but independents, most backed by PTI, accounted for the biggest group with 92 of the 225 seats counted by 1600 GMT, doing much better than expected and taking many by surprise.

Khan was ousted from power in 2022, jailed in August and has received multi-year bans from taking part in politics over a series of corruption and criminal charges.

PTI’s strong showing suggests a possible protest element spurring turnout and the enduring resilience of Khan’s support, analysts said. If the independents cannot form a government on their own, their large number could make Pakistan more unstable, they fear.

PTI supporters said the playing field was unfair, including a day-long cut in mobile services during polling on security grounds after a series of militant attacks. The PTI relies heavily on its social media presence, including automated social media responses that helped citizens find their polling booths and PTI-backed candidates.

Pakistan’s election commission has said it will look into allegations of violations.

“PTI is definitely here to stay. It may have been hollowed out and cut down to size, but … its support base remains large and loyal,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Center. “Khan remains a force to be reckoned with, even from his jail cell.”

YOUNG, ENDURING SUPPORTERS

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,” mentioned Maya Tudor, affiliate professor on the Blavatnik School of Government on the University of Oxford, including the cell providers suspension on election day, after authorities had reassured individuals there could be no blanket communications failure, was a doable signal of fear.

Marwat, the legislation scholar, mentioned she joined PTI in 2016 and forged her first vote for it in 2018, drawn by its chief who she noticed as being “true” to Pakistan. Khan’s sentences galvanised her and plenty of of her friends, she mentioned.

“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 mentioned. “But things change.”

Pakistan’s elections have lengthy been marred by accusations of rigging and the imprisoning of political figures. While the turbulence just isn’t new, analysts and supporters say PTI’s responsive marketing campaign that cuts throughout demographics is.

With its superstar sportsman figurehead and social media presence, PTI can also be standard with Pakistan’s big youth inhabitants that’s rising each election cycle. Newspaper Dawn estimated Pakistan added 10 million for the reason that 2018 election.

One of them, software program engineering scholar Nayaba Akhtar, 21, mentioned she was impressed to vote for a PTI-backed unbiased.

“It feels great,” she mentioned. “I’m unhappy Imran Khan isn’t right here, however I’m comfortable my first vote is for Imran Khan.”

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