Pakistan’s Election Commission bans ex-PM Khan from office

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s Election Commission on Friday banned former Prime Minister Imran Khan from holding public office for five years, after it found he had illegally sold gifts to the state and concealed assets as prime minister, officials said.

The move risks deepening ongoing political unrest in the impoverished Islamic country struggling with a spiraling economy, food shortages and the aftermath of unprecedented floods this summer that killed 1,725 ​​people, displaced hundreds of thousands. and caused an outbreak of malaria and other floods. sickness.

The committee’s announcement comes as Khan, who was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament in April, rallied supporters against the new government and called for a snap election.

Dozens of angry Khan supporters gathered outside the commission’s headquarters in the capital, Islamabad, on Friday, chanting slogans against his decision. Security forces and paramilitary troops cordoned off the compound, preventing crowds from entering.

Later, armored cars were seen rushing towards protesters as they tried to enter Islamabad from the nearby town of Rawalpindi, where clashes between security forces and protesters continued for hours. Khan’s supporters in Rawalpindi burned tires and threw rocks at police, who responded by firing tear gas and brandishing batons.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah Khan, who is not related to the former prime minister, welcomed the decision and said Imran Khan would now be tried in court. Justice Minister Azam Nazir Tarar said the commission’s disqualification would last for five years and the body had also recommended that Khan be tried for concealment of assets.

“You have never made so much money in your whole life as you have made selling the gifts that have been given to you” by heads of foreign countries, said the Minister of the Interior, s’ addressing Khan.

Officials and legal experts said Friday’s decision meant Khan would automatically lose his seat in the National Assembly. Under Pakistani law, the commission has the power to disqualify politicians but is separate from the judiciary. Khan can appeal the decision in court.

A senior leader of Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party, Fawad Chaudhry, condemned the decision and urged Khan’s supporters to rally in the streets. He said there was no ban on Khan leading his party. Khan’s lawyers have denied the allegations against him, saying he “bought back” the gifts from the state and later sold some of them legally.

Another senior party official, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said his legal team would challenge the commission’s decision.

Earlier on Friday, Balkh Ser Khosa, a prominent lawyer, said the disqualification happened because Khan had illegally sold state gifts given to him by other countries when he was in power. Khosa also said Khan hid the profits he made from those sales from tax authorities.

Elsewhere, hundreds of Khan supporters blocked a key road in the northwestern city of Peshawar, disrupting traffic. There were also small gatherings in the port city of Karachi and other places.

The government has deployed additional security forces in Islamabad to maintain public order. Scenes from Islamabad – with armored vehicles with troops pointing guns at crowds – were also seen in Rawalpindi and elsewhere.

Protesters also blocked a highway in the northwestern city of Peshawar, where authorities say dozens of Khan supporters were staging a sit-in, disrupting traffic between Islamabad and Peshawar. However, the Home Office said police had shown restraint and the situation was under control.

In recent days, Khan was expected to announce another march on Islamabad in an attempt to force Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s government to hold snap elections.

After his ouster, Khan led a march on Islamabad in May, but called off the rally after violence erupted and his supporters clashed with police. He has since promised to hold the last round of his political fight in Islamabad.

Later on Friday, Khan released a video in which he accuses Raja Sikandar – head of the commission appointed by Khan in 2020 – of a plot to “silence” him. Khan urged supporters to disperse peacefully and await his call for a march on Islamabad.

The committee’s decision follows a petition by Sharif’s coalition government, seeking action against Khan over allegations that he illegally sold state gifts he received from heads of other states when he was in power. Such gifts are not uncommon in many countries, but while in Pakistan rulers are allowed to redeem gifts, they are not usually sold. If sold, individuals must report it as income.

Khan has claimed his government was overthrown by Sharif as part of a US plot – claims both the prime minister and Washington have denied. Sharif’s government has also rejected Khan’s request for a snap election, saying the vote will take place as planned next year.

Sharif tweeted later Friday that no one was above the law. Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said on Twitter that Khan, “who is said to be spreading lies about the alleged corruption of his political opponents, has been caught in the act”.

Khan, who came to power after the 2018 elections, initially enjoyed excellent relations with army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa. The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75 years.

Later, Khan openly resisted Bajwa’s appointment of a new spy chief to replace Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed, a favorite of Khan. Bajwa eventually deposed Hameed, which caused a rift between Khan and Bajwa that ultimately led to the prime minister’s ousting.

Aurora J. William