Imran Khan’s PTI-backed candidates emerge as strong contenders in Pakistan election

Imran Khan’s PTI-backed candidates emerge as strong contenders in Pakistan election

With a vote count underway, candidates backed by jailed cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) have emerged as a challenge to former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been widely regarded as the man to beat.

The independent candidates’ popularity is not unexpected, analysts told CNA on Friday (Feb 9).

It was projected that if electoral turnout was healthy, these candidates might pull off a surprise victory, said Associate Professor Mariam Mufti from the Department of Political Science at University of Waterloo in Canada.

Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar ul Haq Kakar said that turnout was high among the about 128 million registered voters

As of Friday afternoon, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had announced results for 15 of the 265 contested seats in parliament, according to Al Jazeera’s live blog, showing close competition between PTI and Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) party.

The high voter turnout shows that PTI has been the most popular political party in the run-up to the election and that citizens went out to show their allegiance, said Dr Mufti.

“The electorate in Pakistan has generally been so disheartened by the allegations of corruption, by the fact that this election was being referred to as a selection instead of an election where the military had already predetermined the winner, that I think voters have come out to show that they had a choice and that they were going exercise their choice,” she told CNA’s Asia First.

Observers believe the nation’s powerful military is backing Sharif. The military has denied such allegations, and says it remains apolitical.

Dr Amit Ranjan, research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Institute of South Asia Studies, noted that even before the election was announced, there were reports that PTI was going to do well.

This is despite the commission in December stripping PTI of the iconic bat symbol on technical grounds that the party had not held internal elections, a prerequisite for any political party to take part in national polls.

PTI candidates contested using individual symbols.