Pakistan’s former prime minister, Imran Khan, will be disqualified from holding political office for five years, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) decided on Friday, a move that will further exacerbate political tensions in the country.
Reading out the recommendation, ECP chief Sikandar Sultan Raja said Khan was disqualified for his involvement in “corrupt practices”.
The commission said its decision was based on Khan having “made false statements” about the declaration of the sale of gifts sent by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Dubai while in office, an offense illegal under the country’s constitution. .
There was a heavy police presence outside the election commission office in the capital Islamabad on Friday amid protests by Khan’s supporters. Paramilitary troops have been deployed across the city and the Red Zone, which includes the main government buildings, including the electoral commission, has been mostly closed to traffic.
In a press conference immediately after the ECP’s announcement, leaders of Khan’s party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf (PTI), said they would take the matter to the Islamabad High Court, saying the ECP’s decision was “biased”. ”
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said on Friday that this was “the beginning of a revolution” and called on supporters to “come out of their homes and take to the streets to defend the constitution”.
The announcement raises the possibility that Khan may not contest the next general election expected in 2023. CNN has reached out to Khan’s attorney for comment.
The commission’s ruling is the latest in a string of setbacks for Khan, who was ousted outright in a no-confidence vote in April.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement political party, which is part of the country’s ruling coalition that ousted Khan from power, pushed for the commission’s investigation.
However, the cricketer-turned-populist leader retains a wide following.
He has repeatedly said that his removal from office was the result of a US-led conspiracy against him. He also alleged that the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Pakistan Army were behind his removal from office.
His claims have sparked anger among the young population and disillusionment with the political and military establishment in a country where a rising cost of living crisis and anti-American sentiment are common.
The US, the ruling coalition and Pakistan’s military have denied Khan’s allegations.
His enduring popularity has translated into his party’s recent provincial election victories and he has repeatedly called for a fresh parliamentary vote at mass rallies since his ouster.
Khan has repeatedly called for early elections and said he will lead his supporters on a long march to Islamabad.