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The Charismatic Captain sails through: Change and Hopes

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Pakistan General Elections 2018

By: Majid Marouphay

The people in Pakistan have rallied behind former Cricket star Imran Khan in the general elections and the 1992 cricket World Cup winning skipper is all set to become the 19th Prime Minister of nuclear armed South Asian country. The poll results show that Imran's Pakistan Tehreeki Insaaf Party (PTI) has emerged as a new alternative in country's political landscape. The party has decimated the traditional vote base of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League (PML) in largest populated Punjab province and maintained their popularity in frontier province of Khyber and Pakhtunkhwa Province (KPK). The KPK, earlier known as North Western Frontier Province, and once a stronghold of Islamist parties like Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman's JUM, had given resounding victory to Imran's party and the PTI had formed its maiden government in KPK province after 2013 Elections to provincial assembly.

The Captain's party has made significant inroads in Sindh - the citadel of Pakistan People's Party of former Prime Minister late Benazir Bhutto. The PTI candidates have defeated many PPP bigwigs including Bilawal Bhutoo - son of Benazir and Asif Zardari - the former President of Pakistan. Tehreeki Insaaf has also won seats in the restive Baloachistan province and this shows growing popularity of Captain and his team in all the provinces of Pakistan. Imran Khan himself contested for an unprecedented five National Assembly seats across the provinces, winning them all, even defeating former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi of PML-N.

The Tehreeki Insaaf has described the elections fairest in Pakistan political history. The party has fallen short of an outright majority and will need the support of smaller parties and few independents. Imran Khan needs the magic figure of 137 seats for a majority in the National Assembly, he should have no problems forming a government with a handful of small partners. The people of Pakistan have high expectations of the change PTI has promised to bring.

The cricketer-turned-star politician Imran Khan in his victory speech set out a grand vision for a new government that would act tough against corruption at high places, protect the weaker and marginalized sections of the society and ensure equal opportunities and work culture for all. The PTI chief talked about country's grave challenges like high illiteracy and birthrates, violent religious extremism, a fast falling value of Pakistani rupee in comparison to US dollar and dangerous shortages of water and electricity in the country. He promised to create a welfare state that would fulfill the unrealized democratic dream of Pakistan's founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah. He pledged to introduce policies for the masses and not for the elite. He assured good governance, development and bringing foreign investment in the country. The positive thing about the victory speech was his assurance not to indulge in vengeance or vendetta with political adversaries.

The rivals of PTI have dennounced the election results and victory of Tehreeki Insaaf. Maulana Fazul Rehman and other defeated big guns have alleged irregularities and electoral rigging and demanded fresh elections. The Maulana has announced to run a movement for holding the elections again and has garnered support from PML-N of ousted and jailed former PM Nawaz Sharif. The Election Commission of Pakistan and foreign observers have described the elections fair, although marked by violent armed attacks mostly in Baloachistan and KPK.

Imran Khan, who during his early cricketing years had a playboy image seen frequently visiting English nightclubs after graduating from Oxford. After the 1992 Cricket World Cup triumph, Imran entered into politics, deciding to fight the decades old dominance of corrput political dynasties. His crusade against corruption in public life and philanthropic works like building of the best cancer hospital (Showkat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Center) in Pakistan made his future ambitions amptly clear. His legendary status as Pakistan's most famous sports celebrity and charity works shaped a new narrative in muddy political waters of the country. His tough stance against US drone attacks and decrying excesses, discrimination and collateral damage suffered by people in KPK and FATA won him the hearts of tribals and Pashtuns, and his PTI was elected to power in the region bordering Afghanistan in 2013.

In his last five years Imran has led protest marches against the federal government of PML-N and delivered fiery speeches against Sharif brothers. The PTI chief has emerged from this historic election and will be sworn in coming days the 19th Prime Minister of the Mamlikat and this involves a remarkable turnaround in Khan's political fortunes. Imran faces daunting challenges while taking up the reigns of Pakistan. He will have to safeguard his credibility by not appearing a junior partner of the country's powerful institution - the army. He needs to move quickly to tackle homegrown extremism and a brewing economic crisis. His plans with regard to county's foreign policy will be a subject of interest and how he will engage with US and improve ties with India remains to be seen.

(The author can be mailed at majidmarouphay@gmail.com)

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