Lahore, Pakistan – Former Prime Minister Imran Khan has alleged the Pakistani government could “even violate the constitution” to prevent national elections in the country, due later this year.
“The government is petrified of losing the elections because all opinion polls show they are going to be decimated. They are just running scared of the election and they are even willing to violate the constitution,” Khan told Al Jazeera in an exclusive interview at his residence in Lahore on Monday.
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A day later, Khan, 72, received a major political boost after the Supreme Court ordered the government to hold snap assembly polls in the crucial Punjab province – Pakistan’s most populated – on May 14.
The top court’s order came after nearly a year of high political drama which started with Khan losing a confidence vote in parliament and being thrown out of power.
Soon after his removal in April last year, Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party launched a nationwide campaign demanding immediate general elections, which the government repeatedly rejected.
Tonight after Isha prayers we will be celebrating Youm-i-Tashakur in over 75 cities across all 4 provinces. SC has stood with Constitution & put an end to Doctrine of Necessity, which is used in absence of Rule of Law. This is also a huge step forward towards Haqeeqi Azadi.
— Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) April 5, 2023
To put further pressure on the government, Khan in January orchestrated the dissolution of two provincial assemblies his party controlled – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Khan’s gambit was clear: since Pakistan traditionally holds both the national and provincial elections together, the dissolution of the assemblies in the two provinces would force the government to call snap polls.
But that did not happen, creating a constitutional crisis which even saw the Supreme Court intervene.
Pakistan’s constitution says elections must be held within 90 days of the dissolution of a legislative assembly. But the Election Commission of Pakistan, which initially announced April 30 polls in Punjab, late last month moved it to October, forcing PTI to approach the top court.
“When I decided to dissolve my two assemblies [in the states governed by PTI], we got top lawyers in the country. We all looked at the constitution and each one of them said that the moment you dissolve assemblies, elections will have to be held within 90 days. It is unambiguous,” Khan told Al Jazeera.
“So if the government does not accept the Supreme Court’s verdict, it means they are now violating the constitution. In that case, the Supreme Court could slap contempt [charges] on them,” he said.
“And let me assure everyone that all the people of Pakistan would be standing with the Supreme Court. I think it just won’t be the PTI.”
On Wednesday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah denied the government was running away from holding elections. However, he added that the polls were being held in a “controversial manner” and could be “destructive” for the country.
“It is being said that maybe we are afraid of the election. We have always contested elections and [we] came to power by the power of the vote. We were never selected,” he said.
“But if the election is held in such a controversial manner, it will lead to the destruction of this country and we are an obstacle in the way of this destruction,” he said, without clarifying further.
When asked if he thinks there will be free and fair elections in the country given the belligerence between him and the government, Khan said: “The election commission is totally controlled by the government, as [was] obvious in the Supreme Court. The election commissioner had no constitutional right to prolong the elections.”
Khan told Al Jazeera he is willing to talk to his opponents in the government only if the agenda is holding the elections.
“We have said always that one thing we are willing to talk about is elections. We are willing to talk about the modalities, the day, everything about election, of course. But then what else is there to talk about? I mean, right now, the only issue in Pakistan is of elections.”