Imran Khan's sentence raises doubts over his eligibility for election

Former Pakistan prime minister was sentenced to three years in prison over misuse of state gifts

Police officers barricade a road leading to Attock prison, where Imran Khan is being held. AP
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A three-year sentence given to former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan has raised questions over his eligibility to contest a general election due this year, with two senior lawyers expressing conflicting opinions on the matter.

Mr Khan was convicted on Saturday of illegally selling state gifts given to him as prime minister while he was in office from 2018 to 2022. His Pakistan Tehreek-e Insaf party (PTI) said it was appealing the conviction in the Supreme Court.

Noor Alam, a Supreme Court lawyer, said Mr Khan could still contest elections since he was not given a life term.

“He will appeal to the court and he may get released on bail. Also, there have been instances in the past where political leaders have contested elections and their parties have even won, while they were in jail,” Mr Alam told The National.

However, Farooq Afridi, the additional advocate general of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Mr Khan's home province, said the politician's conviction meant he was automatically disqualified from elections under Article 63 of the Constitution and would only be able to take part if the Supreme Court overturned his sentence.

"But if the court only grants him bail and does not cancel his sentence, he would not be able to contest the polls,” Mr Afridi said.

Mr Khan may also be barred from holding leadership of his party, with the Election Commission scheduled to make a decision on the matter on Monday.

The former prime mister told The National last month he was facing more than 180 charges that he alleged were fabricated to undermine him and his party.

Mr Khan, a national cricketing hero, was arrested from his home in Lahore on Saturday and taken to the high-security Attock prison, also in Punjab province, that houses convicted militants and those awaiting trial.

In contrast to the nationwide and sometimes violent protests triggered by his detention in May by anti-corruption police, the response from his supporters on Saturday was subdued.

Imran Khan's supporters take to the streets after he is moved to high-security jail

Imran Khan's supporters take to the streets after he is moved to high-security jail

A PTI activist told The National many supporters feared being arrested after the state crackdown following those protests, in which military sites and other infrastructure was damaged.

“The May 9 protests led not only to arrests of party activists but their families were also worried as their houses were raided by law enforcement personnel,” he said.

Police in the city of Peshawar, which is considered a PTI stronghold, said only a few party supporters staged protests on Saturday and 24 people were arrested.

Mr Alam, the Supreme Court lawyer, said Mr Khan's imprisonment could generate more support for him in the elections.

“The May 9 protests damaged his image since public property was damaged. But this current arrest will help him gain public support,” he said.

He questioned the former prime minister's tactics to force an early poll after being ousted in a no-confidence vote in April last year, including holding rallies across the country to press his demand.

“Imran made a mistake by not playing his role as opposition leader after a vote of no confidence was passed against him. He instead dissolved two [PTI-ruled] provincial assemblies," Mr Alam said.

"He should have acted like politician and should have played his role as opposition leader, too.”

The governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ghulam Ali, told The National there was a possibility that the general election might not be held in November as expected because of the government decision that the constituencies should be redrawn to reflect the results of the latest census that have just been released.

“The adjustment in constituencies and other arrangements for the elections on the basis of the fresh census may take time. In my opinion, we need another three to four months to hold the elections," Mr Ali said.

"However, if the Election Commission of Pakistan can manage things hurriedly, then elections may be possible in November.”

Updated: August 06, 2023, 8:33 PM