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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 August 2018

Imran Khan is the man of the hour with the power to transform the country's image

His politics-of-the-people speech holds great promise, but opposition parties will have considerable influence on events, especially if they decide to join forces, writes Amina Yaqin

Supporters of Imran Khan, head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party celebrate in Karachi, Pakistan, 26 July 2018. Shahzaib Akber / EPA
Supporters of Imran Khan, head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party celebrate in Karachi, Pakistan, 26 July 2018. Shahzaib Akber / EPA

A relatively peaceful election marked only the second democratic handover between civilian governments in Pakistan’s history, barring violence in Quetta. The lead-up to the election was projected in the international and some local media as a soft coup engineered by the deep state yet for the general public in Pakistan, the military is a necessary ally of the state and seen as more trustworthy than the police.

A large proportion of people on the ground see Imran Khan, the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) party, as the only one left with credibility who can turn the country around, put power back in the hands of its people and get rid of the corruption that is seen as an inbuilt part of the political infrastructure.

With the final election results confirming that the PTI has secured more votes than its main opposition, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Mr Khan is now in the driving seat for the role of prime minister and will be looking to form a coalition in the coming week.

With that, the political landscape of Pakistan has changed considerably. The PTI’s consistent challenging of endemic corruption and the removal of office and imprisonment of the PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif convinced a large proportion of the public that Mr Khan could do what others could not.

While the PTI are in the lead in the national assembly, it still does not have the required numbers to form a government and a coalition is being negotiated. If the PML-N and the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) join forces, it will lead to a strong opposition and – depending on where the rest of the smaller parties and independents go – Pakistan could see a precarious political situation emerge.

In the provincial elections, Punjab is the place to watch, where PML-N is in the lead with 127 seats and the PTI is snapping at its heels with 123 seats.

Mr Khan has a tough journey ahead as he will need to deliver on his promises over the next five years as those who have voted him in will hold him accountable.

His party has been under scrutiny for not having delivered in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, its home ground, but it is also interesting to note that Mr Khan’s political decisions are influenced by regional politics.

Thus far, he has a track record of veering to the right on certain issues, with questionable affiliations to the Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan. Nationally, he has supported the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat campaign led by Tehreek-e Labbaik Pakistan and other associated extreme religious parties.

These groups brought the country to a standstill demanding that the clause declaring the finality of the prophethood was put back into the Elections Act 2017.

Mr Khan has consistently used patriotism as a shield for his conservative stance on matters of faith. This, along with his rejection of the Women’s Protection Bill, are reasons for concern when it comes to the question of rights for those who have been at the margins of society.

Where women are concerned, his personal life has also been under the spotlight, with his second ex-wife Reham Khan releasing her controversial eponymous memoir just before the election. But throughout his political rise, he has had the constant support of his first wife Jemima Khan, who has helped him when it mattered most, coming to his rescue over the controversy regarding the acquisition of land for his Banigala residence in Islamabad.

His current wife Bushra Manika, a Sufi mystic and mother-of-five, has raised many eyebrows but she seems to have had the desired effect when it comes to confirming Mr Khan’s overall reliability and sincerity as a family man, combating the character assassinations from the likes of Reham and Pakistani MP Ayesha Gulalai, who said he sexually harassed her.

In his first speech a day after the election, Mr Khan made all the right noises about taxation, foreign policy and the dawn of a new Pakistan. How things pan out remains to be seen. For the present, the outcome of the election is being challenged by the opposition, with cries of vote rigging, questions over Form 45 (the electoral register) and the turfing out of polling agents before the last count.

In the long run, this is something for the election commission to investigate and to carry out due process to ensure people have faith in the system.

The system is certainly open to abuse in rural parts of the country, where there are thousands of unregistered women voters. All these issues need to be addressed so that there is parity across the country and a democratic system that is valid beyond metropolitan centres.

Mr Khan’s politics-of-the-people speech holds great promise for those who have voted him in. Still, the opposition parties will have considerable influence on events, especially if they decide to join forces – and it is likely that regional politics will take on a different flavour to national politics.

To what extent Imran Khan will be led by the military remains to be seen, but for the moment he is the man of the hour with the power to transform the country’s image.

Amina Yaqin is the co-author of Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representation After 9/11 and a senior lecturer in Urdu and post-colonial studies at SOAS, University of London

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