The world's fifth democracy goes to the polls today with its most charismatic politician jailed, the economy faltering, disputes with neighbours, many young people contemplating exile and the certainty that the military, whoever wins, will continue to rule. Opinion polls favor Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), but no one is making more headlines than Imran Khan, a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party, who has come under fire over the past week.
Politics has revolved around Khan since his party's 2018 election victory, buoyed by sporting glory (he captained the team that won Pakistan's only cricket World Cup in 1992), and his focus on corruption and military support. But this faded with his stubborn attacks on the ruling classes, and in 2022 he was expelled from Parliament in a motion of no confidence over his alleged incompetence in economic management. Problems piled up on him, and he was recently sentenced to 10 and 14 years in prison on charges of corruption and treason. His wife, Bushra Bibi, was also imprisoned after her marriage was declared fraudulent.
At 71 years old, Khan still represents change and resistance to the ruling oligarchy and the military for Pakistani youth. His party is running for election without him and has been devastated by the arrests. The justice barred him from using his famous cricket bat on ballot papers, which would make it difficult for illiterate people to recognize him, and from broadcasting his leader's speeches on television. Experts say that despite all the obstacles, it maintains a solid foundation.
The biography of Sharif, the most likely winner, shows friction with justice and the position of prime minister. In fact, none of those who led the country to democracy were able to finish their term. This will be the fourth time that Sharif returns to the stage after four years in exile. He also expressed regret that the army expelled him in a riot, but affection now flows unrestrained. Since his return to the country in October, all the corruption convictions that barred him from running in the elections have been overturned. His strong base in the Punjab province, which is full of infrastructure, fuels his attack on power.
His rivals include Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The son of Benazir Bhutto, the assassinated Prime Minister, is still too young, at 35 years old, to get into trouble with justice. Analysts expect that the elections will result in a weak coalition government that is run by army thugs. He will have few duties. 40% of Pakistan's population of 240 million people live in poverty, the value of the rupee has fallen by half since 2021, and the country suffers from decades of inflation, only loans from friendly countries, and a $3 billion bailout from the International Monetary Fund that prevented it from defaulting. .
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