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Imran Khan’s party loses election symbol in Pakistan

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The political party of Pakistan’s jailed former prime minister Imran Khan faced a setback on Saturday (13) when the country’s top court ruled against allowing the retention of its cricket bat symbol for the polls next month.

The South Asian nation of more than 240 million people votes on February 8 in a general election rights groups say lacks credibility following a crackdown against Khan’s party.

The former international cricketing star’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party has long used the cricket bat as a symbol for voters to recognise it at the ballot box, in a nation where the adult literacy rate is just 58 per cent, according to World Bank data.

“The ruling delivers one of the biggest electoral blows to date to what is likely the country’s most popular political party,” Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Washington-based Wilson Centre said.

“In a country with high illiteracy rates, many will struggle to know who to vote for without the bat symbol,” he said, warning of a “systematic effort” by the political establishment to sideline the PTI.

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The election commission banned the PTI from using the image in December, after ruling the internal party polls it had ordered were not carried out in accordance with election law — leading to multiple legal challenges which ended up in the Supreme Court last week.

Pakistan’s Chief Justice Qazi Faez Isa upheld the ban in a ruling broadcast on television.

He said the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) first called on the PTI to hold elections in 2021 when it was the ruling party: “Therefore, it can’t be stated that ECP was victimising PTI,” he said.

Party spokesman Zulfi Bukhari labelled it a “sad day for democracy.”

PTI candidates will now have to choose individual symbols.

Khan rose to fame in cricket-crazed Pakistan by captaining the national team to victory against England in the 1992 ODI World Cup final, using the triumph to springboard his philanthropic career, which then gave way to politics.

He has been pummelled by a barrage of legal cases since being ousted in April 2022 after falling out with the country’s top military brass, and remains in custody on a slew of allegations.

He has been barred from standing for office after being convicted of graft, although his sentence was later overturned.

Former three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif is considered the frontrunner in the election after getting the backing of the country’s generals.

Sharif — head of one of the dynastic parties which have historically helmed Pakistan — has returned from self-imposed exile and seen his myriad convictions dissolve in the courts.

Analysts say it’s a sign the three-time former prime minister is the favoured candidate of the top brass.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says the election has already been marred by “pre-poll rigging”, with Khan and his party being squeezed out of the race.

(AFP)

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