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Khan supporters protest as lawmakers take oath in Pakistan parliament

Allies of jailed former premier Imran Khan protested against what they claim was a rigged election.

Pakistan Politics

Newly elected members have been sworn in at Pakistan’s National Assembly as allies of jailed former premier Imran Khan protested against what they claim was a rigged election.

Lawmakers from Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party repeatedly chanted “vote-thief!” as Shehbaz Sharif, who is expected to form the government, entered the lower house of parliament with his brother Nawaz Sharif. Both men are former premiers.

Outgoing National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf administered the oath to incoming legislators.

The house echoed with chants of “long live Sharif!” when the brothers signed the register after taking their oaths of office. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the young chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party and a key Sharif ally, was met with similar chants.

Pakistan Politics
Newly elected lawmakers display a poster of their leader and imprisoned former PM Imran Khan (Anjum Naveed/AP)

The new government will face challenges including a surge in militant attacks and shortages of energy as well as an ailing economy that will force Pakistan to seek another bailout from the International Monetary Fund.

Lawmakers from Khan’s PTI told reporters that they will continue their campaign against the rigging of elections in and outside the parliament.

“Yes, the election has been rigged,” said Gohar Ali Khan, the current head of PTI.

PTI has called for nationwide rallies on Saturday. The party claims its results were changed in dozens of constituencies to prevent it from winning a majority, a charge the Election Commission of Pakistan denies.

After the February 8 elections, observers from the Commonwealth praised election officials for holding the vote despite multiple militant attacks but the US State Department said that the vote was held under restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly.

The European Union also criticised the inability of some political actors to contest the elections. Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry has fired back at such criticism, saying the vote was held in a free, fair and transparent manner.

Pakistan Election
Shehbaz Sharif is set to become PM (KM Chaudary/AP)

None of the foreign observers described widespread vote-stealing.

Mr Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League party, or PML-N, and the Pakistan People’s Party of former president Asif Ali Zardari, emerged from the vote as the largest presence in the 336-seat National Assembly, or lower house of the parliament.

Under a power-sharing formula, Mr Sharif’s party will support Mr Zardari in next month’s presidential elections. Outgoing President Arif Alvi is an ally of Khan and was a senior member of PTI before becoming president.

Khan is serving prison terms in multiple cases and has been barred from seeking or holding office.

He has been convicted on charges of corruption, revealing official secrets and violating marriage laws in three separate verdicts and sentenced to concurrent prison terms of 10, 14 and seven years. He is appealing against all the convictions but still faces some 170 legal cases on charges ranging from corruption to inciting violence and terrorism.

On Wednesday, the PTI wrote a letter to the International Monetary Fund, urging it to link any talks with Islamabad to an audit of the country’s recent election. The latest development came days before the IMF releases a key instalment of a bailout loan to Pakistan.

Khan’s move had drawn widespread criticism from his rivals, including Mr Sharif, who said Khan wanted to harm the country’s economy.

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