Pakistan to Call Elections This Week after Imran Khan Jailed

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Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is set to dissolve parliament days before his term expires at the end of the week, a development that comes shortly after popular former leader Imran Khan was imprisoned in a graft case.

 

“I will dissolve my government and the National Assembly on August 9,” Sharif told a rally in Punjab province on Sunday, according to Agence-France Presse. “The rest is in the hands of Allah the almighty. After that an interim government will take over and elections will be held.”

 

Speculation is growing that federal and provincial elections may be delayed until next year after Sharif last week said they must be based on new census data. On Saturday, he chaired a meeting to approve the latest data, saying the world’s fifth-most populous nation needed to boost economic development to keep up with the increase in numbers.

 

While Pakistan has until mid-November to hold an election, government officials have said voter lists will need to be revised and constituencies redrawn, suggesting elections could be delayed from anywhere between two to six months.

 

Any delay stands to help Sharif’s ruling PML-N and other allied political groups gain ground among voters after Khan was sentenced to jail for hiding the proceeds from the sale of state gifts. Khan, who has topped opinion polls, was picked up on Saturday and sent to a jail at the outskirts of the capital Islamabad.

 

Reaction to Khan’s arrest was muted, unlike in May when his detention brought hundreds of thousands of people to the streets and triggered attacks on state-owned property and military installations. Khan’s party said scores of supporters have been arrested over the weekend amid sporadic protests after the group called for peaceful demonstrations.

 

Investors took the latest developments in stride, with the nation’s dollar bonds up in early Asian trading on Monday. Debt due in 2031 rose 0.2 cents to 49.3 cents on the dollar.

 

Election delays could also buy time for a caretaker administration to follow through with pledges to the International Monetary Fund for a loan to shore up an economy hit by record inflation and borrowing costs. The interim prime minister is expected to be appointed on Aug. 8 or 9, although there’s disagreement among Sharif and his allies on the candidates.

 

On Sunday, Sharif used the rally in Punjab to reiterate that his elder brother and former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, will become Pakistan’s next leader if their party PML-N wins the election. Nawaz, who has lived in self-exile in London since 2019, is widely seen by analysts and commentators to be calling the shots in the party.

 

In recent months, the military and the government carried out a sweeping crackdown on Khan’s party, leading to key members abandoning the former cricket star and joining other groups. Khan spent much of his time holed up in his home in Punjab province, only venturing out to seek bail in more than 170 legal cases.

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