Pakistan ex-PM Khan barred from election candidacy: party

The former cricket star was found guilty of graft earlier this year, but a court suspended his three-year sentence.

December 31, 2023 04:56 pm | Updated 04:56 pm IST - Islamabad

 Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. File

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. File | Photo Credit: REUTERS

Jailed former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and most of his supporters have been rejected as candidates for the February 8 election, party officials said Sunday after nominations for the ballot closed.

Khan has been in prison since August, facing trial over a slew of cases he insists have been orchestrated to prevent him from contesting the election as the figurehead of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party.

The former cricket star was found guilty of graft earlier this year, but a court suspended his three-year sentence and the conviction is being appealed.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) disqualified him from office over the conviction, but PTI turned in nomination papers for Khan last week regardless.

"Nomination papers of almost all national and provincial leaders of PTI, including Imran Khan, have been rejected," said PTI spokesman Raoof Hasan. "90 to 95% of our candidates' papers have been rejected."

Hasan told AFP candidates were being blocked as part of an "agenda" to prevent PTI from contesting the election in six weeks.

"All tactics are being tried for this purpose but, under any circumstances, we will not leave the political ground and will not boycott the elections," he said.

An election commission official confirmed to AFP that various PTI candidates had been rebuffed including Khan, based on his conviction.

Such widespread action against a single party is "unprecedented" in Pakistan, political analyst Hasan Askari told AFP.

"This is the first time in the country's history that a political party has been excluded from the electoral process on such a large scale even before the election," he said.

State institutions want to keep PTI from contesting polls "at any cost" and "the chances of PTI getting relief are very slim", he added.

The ECP is due to announce the final list of contesting candidates on January 23.

PTI's claim it is already being frozen out of the voting process is likely to lead to a slew of appeals to the ECP and various courts.

"We will stay in the elections and will file appeals against all these decisions in each of the constituencies and will use all our constitutional, legal and political options," PTI spokesman Hasan said.

Khan, 71, was ousted last year after falling out with Pakistan's powerful military leaders who backed him into power in 2018.

In opposition, he waged an unprecedented campaign of defiance against the military establishment which has directly ruled the nation for much of its history.

Khan accused them of engineering his removal from office in a no-confidence vote via a U.S.-backed conspiracy and of plotting an assassination attempt that saw him wounded.

After Khan's brief detention in May sparked unrest, PTI has been the subject of a widespread crackdown, with leading figures either jailed or forced to leave the party.

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