Imran fears umpires-led rigging in by-polls

PTI chief asks supporters to defeat those trying to rig Punjab by-polls

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan on Saturday warned his party workers and supporters to beware of rigging during the upcoming by-polls in Punjab, as “the umpires” stand on the government’s side.

The former premier expressed these concerns during a public gathering of his party at Islamabad’s Parade Ground to protest against inflation, political destabilisation, excessive load shedding and continued hikes in fuel prices.

“We have 20 by-elections [coming up] in Punjab. The only way they can win is through rigging. The people are against them, [but] the umpires are with them,” he said. “We have to defeat these thieves despite their umpires.”

“No matter what tactic they use … whether they rig the election or use the police, the nation will never accept them,” Imran said, referring to the government, which he often dubs as “imported” and claims that it was imposed on the country by the US after ousting his own government through a “conspiracy”.

He had announced the gathering last Saturday, saying that the demonstration would be held for Islamabad locals and those from Rawalpindi, while people from other major cities would have their own local protests.

At the start of his speech, Imran explained why he had chosen to end his long march on May 26. “I knew there would be anarchy that evening and people would have come face to face with the police and the Rangers,” he said. “[This] nation, the police, the Rangers [all] are mine. I don’t want to spread anarchy within my nation. I had set out just for one purpose: imported govt unacceptable.”

He said he had set out for one reason, and that was to show all the institutions where the nation was standing and what it wanted, and that it would never accept those thieves.

“I invited you all today because I wanted to prove that if they hadn’t used force on May 25, there would have been a sea of people in Islamabad and it would have said one thing: imported govt unacceptable.”

Addressing his political rivals, he said he knew that they wanted him to fight the army and the judiciary but “listen closely, our life and death is in Pakistan”.

He accused the government of melting under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pressure within two months, saying that he resisted the fund’s demands for two-and-a-half years but raised petrol prices by a mere Rs10 as opposed to the “sky high” hike made by the current set-up.

Imran criticised the Sharif and Bhutto families, branded them “slaves and boot polishers” and held them responsible for the country’s economic plight.

“My questions from Pakistan’s institutions is that how did you allow these thieves to be foisted over us? Is it not your Pakistan? Don’t you understand that when you place thieves atop the treasury, the country gets destroyed?”

The PTI chairman said the judiciary and the “neutrals” – a reference to the military establishment – will be answerable to God for what they had done. “God will ask judges, ‘I gave you status to establish justice, did you do that or not, and did you protect the weak from the powerful, and did you bring powerful under law or not?’ … God will also ask the neutrals that ‘how did you allow these thieves to be imposed over this country?'”

Imran claimed that the public was against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led unity government and the only way it could win the upcoming by-elections in Punjab was by way of rigging.

Imran condemned the assault on senior journalist Ayaz Amir the other day by “unidentified men”. “The violence done against him … I strongly condemn it and I want to send a message that if you think you can scare people and foist these thieves over us, don’t have this misunderstanding. Whoever thinks so does not know the Pakistani nation,” he added. “The nation will only get angrier and in end the country will face a loss.”

Addressing the crowd before Imran, former interior minister Sheikh Rashid termed July as an “important month”, and called on the people to ensure the PTI’s victory in the Punjab by-elections on July 17.

Addressing the country’s institutions and the establishment, he also said that early elections were in the country’s best interest.

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