Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan’s party directed to hold leadership poll

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s election commission on Thursday ordered jailed ex-premier Imran Khan’s party to hold leadership polls to retain its voting symbol in next year’s general election.
Since being ousted in 2022, Khan has been tangled in a slew of legal cases he says are designed to stop him from contesting polls due in February, while his party has faced a massive crackdown.
In the latest decision, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has ordered the former cricketer’s party to hold intra-party elections in 20 days to retain its longstanding poll symbol: a cricket bat.
Election symbols are crucial in a country where the adult literacy rate is just 58 percent, according to World Bank data.
“In case, the respondent party failed to comply with the direction of the Commission and failed to hold its intra-party election within the prescribed 20 days… (it) would be ineligible to obtain an election symbol,” the ECP ruling said.
Under Pakistan’s election rules, political parties are bound to hold intra-party elections every five years.
Politicians in the South Asian country are often tangled in legal proceedings that rights monitors say are orchestrated by the powerful military, which has ruled the country directly for more than half of its history and continues to enjoy immense power.
Before the polls, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was struggling against a widespread crackdown, with leading party figures either jailed or forced to leave the party.
Khan has been locked up since August, currently in custody awaiting trial in several cases, including an allegation of leaking state documents.
The PTI’s lawyers said they would challenge the verdict in an Islamabad court.
“This decision is profoundly distressing and fails to meet the standards of justice,” PTI lawyer Gohar Khan told reporters in Islamabad.
A caretaker government has been running Pakistan since parliament was dissolved on August 9.
The country has struggled through months of political chaos, with Khan waging a campaign of defiance against the powerful military after being ousted from power last year.
With Khan out of favour with the establishment, three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned from self-imposed exile last month to lead his Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in the poll campaign.

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