Imran Khan’s party to protest Pakistan election rigging, names Omar Ayub PM choice

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Imran Khan’s party named a prime minister candidate as it seeks to form a coalition government after Pakistan’s inconclusive election, while also pledging to hold protests against alleged vote-rigging in last week’s polls.

The jailed former premier’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, chose Omar Ayub Khan, the grandson of the military dictator who was Pakistan’s second president, as its nominee to lead the country, according to Gohar Ali Khan, the party’s interim chairman. It called nationwide protests for Saturday, Khan also said.

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The moves are an attempt to fight back by PTI after a rival party said it would form a coalition government with the backing of other groups — and, analysts say, the powerful military — even though Imran Khan loyalists, running as independents, won the most seats in the February 8 polls.

Supporters must “fight until you win,” Ali Khan said at a press conference outside the jail where Imran Khan is being held in the garrison town of Rawalpindi in northern Pakistan.

The developments add to the deepening political crisis in the South Asian country after the election, which saw a strong showing by Khan’s loyalists even after they had been barred from using the party’s name or its election symbol, a cricket bat. Pakistan’s benchmark stock index fell 1.9 percent on Thursday, declining for the fourth time in five days.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, led by Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shehbaz, is ahead in the race to form a government. Other groups, including Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan Peoples Party, have said they will support its pick for prime minister — the former premier Shehbaz.

Khan’s party will join forces with a smaller group called Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan to become eligible for some of the seats reserved for women and religious minorities in the lower house. It has also filed lawsuits suits to force recounts for seats that its loyalists lost, alleging vote-rigging.

Omar Ayub Khan, the PTI nominee for prime minister, said his first priority would be to release Imran Khan and other party leaders from jail.

“PTI will contest and inshallah win the PM election in the National Assembly,” he said in a post on X, referring to the country’s lower house. “We will not allow our mandate to be stolen.”

The date for the parliamentary vote to elect the new prime minister hasn’t been announced. Whoever takes the role will face several challenges. Inflation is running at 28 percent, the fastest pace in Asia, and the latest International Monetary Fund bailout program is set to expire in April, suggesting the next leader will have to negotiate a new deal.

PTI Chairman Gohar Ali Khan said the protests will be peaceful and invited other smaller parties to join if they believed the “mandate was changed and rigging took place.”

Protests have been small since the election results amid a heavy police presence.

Imran Khan was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote in April 2022. When Khan called for protests, hundreds of thousands of his supporters took to the streets, staging sit-ins and blocking highways.

The protests turned violent in May when Khan was arrested in the grounds of the Islamabad high court. Supporters spilled onto the streets and vandalized government and military buildings.

That led to a crackdown, with alleged participants facing trials in military court, senior leaders leaving Khan’s party and the ex-cricket star himself facing even more court cases.

The army has ruled Pakistan directly or behind the scenes for most the country’s modern history but said recently it will no longer be involved in politics. Khan has said the generals conspired with other political parties to oust him from power in April 2022 and was responsible for the crackdown against him and his group, allegations the military have repeatedly denied.

Read more:

Coalition agrees to form new Pakistan government: Parties

Supporters of Pakistan’s jailed Imran Khan block highways to protest election results

Pakistan must move from ‘anarchy and polarization’ post-election: Army chief

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