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Imran Khan: Pakistan’s New Hope

Pakistan has a new prime minister, former celebrity cricket captain of the national team, Imran Khan has won the election, and is poised to fulfil his long-pursued ambition to lead the country. Though the startling delay in results and reports of ballot-stuffing fuelled suspicion and anger, there had already been warnings of the dirtiest election in recent history.

The army has directly ruled Pakistan for half of its 71-year history, wielding power behind the scenes in between. If all goes smoothly, this will be only the second time one civilian government has replaced another. Tens of millions went to the polls, despite deadly campaign violence including a suicide bombing on Election Day.

But even before the problems with casting and counting votes, Pakistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission had warned of blatant, aggressive and unabashed attempts to manipulate the outcome, mostly through intense pressure on the media and the intimidation of candidates. While the military denies it has intervened in favour of Mr Khan, no one doubted its determination to see off the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. Though the jailing of its leader Nawaz Sharif followed revelations in the Panama Papers, his supporters were not alone in seeing selective prosecution or suggesting that his greater offence was pushing back against the military.

But former cricket star has definitely benefited from voters frustration with years of corruption and domination of dynastic politics by Sharif and Zardari family. Just like their rival neighbour country India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Imran promised a new Pakistan. He has portrayed himself as the outsider who will clean up a dirty business, despite his elite background and reliance on electable who bring their own vote banks as they switch between parties.

There was some relief at his conciliatory tone as he gave his victory speech, and underlines his intention of making better relation with India. But his campaigning record is not encouraging, and now as campaign is over, he must actually run a country– in so far as he is allowed to. There are various bigger challenges lies ahead, such as; struggle with violence; extremism; poverty and a worsening economic situation, in a fraught international environment; a mightier China, tense relations with the US, India and Afghanistan. Whatever he does will be done within the context of a strengthened military. He claimed the company’s empire would step back if he were elected. But Mr Khan’s promised “New Pakistan” seems likely to look rather like the old variety.