Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ex-Pakistan PM’s party picks new head before election

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, currently in jail facing what he states are more than 150 cases filed to prevent him from contesting elections next year, has been replaced as head of the party he founded, officials have announced.

One of Khan’s lawyers was elected on Saturday as chairman of his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) party, allowing it to take part in the national vote scheduled for February 8.

Barrister Gohar Ali Khan was nominated by Imran Khan himself to be the new chairman of the PTI, which the 71-year-old cricketer-turned-politician founded in 1996. The two are not related.

The party’s chief election commissioner, Niazullah Niazi, said Gohar was elected unopposed.

The change was forced on the party after the Election Commission of Pakistan warned the PTI last month that it risked losing its emblem – a cricket bat – unless an internal ballot was held for party officers.

Election symbols are crucial in a country where the adult literacy rate is 58 percent, according to World Bank data.

After his election, the PTI’s new leader told party supporters in the northern city of Peshawar, where the election results were announced, that he would remain a loyal representative of Imran Khan.

“I will step down once the conviction of Imran Khan is overturned,” he stated.

Another of Khan’s lawyers, barrister Ali Zafar, added choosing Gohar Ali Khan as a replacement was just a “babysitting” arrangement for the party.

Imran Khan has been embroiled in a tangle of political and legal battles since he was removed as prime minister in April 2022 in a parliamentary vote of no confidence. He has not been seen in public since he was jailed for three years in August for unlawfully selling state gifts while in office from 2018 to 2022.

Despite securing bail in that case, he remains in jail for another trial in an official secrets case along with his party’s vice chairman, Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

Imran Khan has denied all the charges against him, as has Qureshi, a former foreign minister.

Imran Khan has depicted his removal as part of a campaign against him by then-Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, the United States and the Pakistani military – a claim all three deny.

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