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Pakistan Election Set for Delay as Boundaries Redrawn

Move follows jailing of popular opposition leader Imran Khan.

Pakistani officials have approved a plan to redraw the country’s electoral boundaries, probably delaying this year’s election by several months and further fuelling tensions in the wake of the jailing of popular opposition leader Imran Khan. A council chaired by prime minister Shehbaz Sharif on Saturday approved a new census that showed Pakistan’s population had risen to 241mn, a decision that will require authorities to redraw constituency maps before elections can be held.

While elections were constitutionally supposed to happen by November this year, Pakistan’s law minister Azam Nazeer Tarar told the country’s Geo TV that the new census means that polls are now only likely early next year. The decision was announced on the same day as police took Khan into custody following an Islamabad high court’s decision to sentence him to three years in jail on corruption charges. Many analysts saw him as the election frontrunner.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has decried the conviction as a politically motivated attempt to stop him returning to power. Khan has denied the allegations that he illegally sold gifts he received while in office from 2018 to 2022. Khan, who has repeatedly clashed with Sharif’s government and the country’s powerful military while in opposition, this week told the BBC that the authorities “are petrified of elections”. “The reason why I’m suffering is because they know that [in the] elections, we would win hands down,” he added. “And because of that, they’re dismantling a democracy.”

Khan has appealed against the court’s decision, which disqualifies him from holding office for five years and removes him from the electoral race.  His jailing threatens to escalate the country’s already fraught political tensions. It follows a months-long crackdown on the PTI that critics say amounts to a campaign — orchestrated by Sharif’s allies and the army — to dismantle the party and ensure it is unable to mount an effective electoral challenge.

Thousands of PTI supporters were arrested after violent protests in May, and many senior leaders have quit under pressure. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper reported that police arrested dozens more PTI supporters on Saturday. Marriyum Aurangzeb, Sharif’s information minister, denied that Khan’s conviction was politically motivated. Khan “used each and every channel to escape or defeat the law to evade accountability”, she said at a press conference on Saturday.

Khan’s opponents say that the former prime minister, who ruled with the backing of the army until the two sides fell out last year, employed similar tactics against his rivals while in power. Sharif, who has struggled to manage a severe economic crisis, is due to step down this week and hand over power to a caretaker government that will rule the country until polls are held. Sharif’s allied Pakistan Peoples Party has previously opposed the plan to redraw electoral boundaries based on the new census.

An editorial in Dawn on the planned boundary change warned that “the perception that there are layers upon layers of intrigue at play is giving rise to a palpable sense of unease among the general public”. It added: “Unfortunately, all signs right now indicate extensive pre-poll engineering is being done to avoid any ‘undesirable’ outcome of the exercise.”

Source : Financial Times