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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

Imran Khan eyes victory as Pakistan announces elections on July 25

Elections offer the prospect of second-ever democratic transfer of power in Pakistan

Pakistan opposition leader and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party Imran Khan leaves Parliament after attending a session in Islamabad on May 23. Aamir Qureshi / AFP
Pakistan opposition leader and head of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party Imran Khan leaves Parliament after attending a session in Islamabad on May 23. Aamir Qureshi / AFP

Pakistani cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan's party vowed on Sunday to remove he country's "corrupt" rulers, as the nuclear-armed state announced it will hold general elections on July 25.

The poll will bring to a head political tensions that have been building since former prime minister Nawaz Sharif was removed by the Supreme Court on corruption charges and later barred from politics for life.

Khan is hoping to achieve a long-held dream of leading the country as its prime minister, and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is the main challenger to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which was headed by Mr Sharif until his ban.

PTI leaders have said they are confident they will be able to defeat the PML-N.

"The Pakistani nation ... can see the dawn of a new Pakistan, which will not be ruled by the corrupt," the party said on Twitter on Sunday along with a graphic that read "Mafia's Game Over".

"Stop us if you can," it said in another tweet.

The bullish comments came after Pakistan's president Mamnoon Hussain on Saturday approved July 25 as the date for the elections, which offer the prospect of what would be only the second-ever democratic transfer of power in the South Asian country.

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The current government, led by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, is expected to hand over power to a caretaker administration in the coming days.

Despite Mr Sharif's departure, the ruling party says it has invested in improving Pakistan's rickety infrastructure and attracted billions of dollars in Chinese investment. It has also denied allegations of graft against its leadership by opponents like Mr Khan.

PTI has vowed to fight corruption, presenting itself as a polar opposite of what it calls status-quo politicians.

Since his exit, Mr Sharif and the PML-N have become increasingly vocal in their confrontation with the country's powerful military establishment and the courts, claiming there is a conspiracy afoot to reduce the party's power.

Mr Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan's seven-decade history – about half of it under military rule – to be removed before completing a full term.

The country saw its first ever democratic transfer of power following elections in 2013, which the PML-N won by a landslide.

"This is the second consecutive parliament to complete its tenure and we are now looking forward to... [going] to the people to get their verdict on our performance," Finance Minister Miftah Ismail told AFP.

Despite the numerous court rulings against the PML-N, the party has won a string of recent by-elections, proving it is likely to remain a powerful force.

It continues to enjoy a large amount of support in Punjab, the country's most populous province, but will enter the election under increasing pressure.

In April, a Pakistan court disqualified Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif for violating the country's election laws, while Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal was shot in the arm in a suspected assassination attempt by an Islamist gunman earlier this month.

Mr Sharif also sparked a firestorm after suggesting Pakistani militants were behind the 2008 Mumbai attacks, approaching what is seen as a red line in the country by touching on criticism of Pakistan's military.