Pakistan’s election commission bars ex-PM Khan from office

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s elections commission on Friday disqualified former Prime Minister Imran Khan from holding public office for five years, accusing him of unlawfully selling state gifts and concealing assets, his spokesman and officials said. The move is likely to deepen lingering political turmoil in the impoverished country.

Fawad Chaudhry told reporters that the Election Commission of Pakistan announced the much-awaited verdict in the capital, Islamabad. Chaudhry condemned the move and urged Khan’s supporters to protest publicly.

Officials and legal experts said Khan will lose his National Assembly seat under the verdict. Balkh Ser Khosa, a prominent lawyer, said the commission disqualified Khan from holding public office because he unlawfully sold state gifts given to him by other countries when he was in power. He said Khan also hid the profits he earned from those sales from tax authorities.

The latest decision comes months after the parliament ousted Khan through a no-confidence vote.

Angered over Khan’s disqualification, his Tehreek-e-Insaf party urged supporters to take to the streets to peacefully condemn the commission’s decision, which Khan’s party was expecting.

Dozens of Khan’s supporters were seen chanting slogans against the government and authorities at the Election Commission Friday. Hundreds of others blocked a key road in the northwestern city of Peshawar, disrupting traffic. Khan’s supporters were also holding small rallies in major cities in the country.

Khan’s hundreds of supporters briefly clashed with police in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. However, the demonstrators dispersed when police swung batons and fired tear gas shells, according to local media reports. The government deployed additional security forces in Islamabad to maintain law and order.

Law Minister Azam Nazir Tarar confirmed that the commission found Khan guilty of the charges. Tarar said Khan has been disqualified from holding public office for five years.

The latest move comes days before Khan was expected to announce his much-awaited march on Islamabad to force the government of Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif to hold snap elections.

Sharif’s coalition government petitioned the Election Commission, seeking action against Khan on charges that he unlawfully sold state gifts that he had received from heads of other states when he was in the power.

Since his ouster, Khan has claimed that his government was toppled by Sharif under a U.S. plot.

Sharif and Washington both have denied the allegation.

Shortly after Khan’s disqualification, Pakistani Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari wrote of Khan on Twitter: “He who would spread lies about alleged corruption of his political opponents has been caught red-handed.”

Khan came to power by winning the 2018 vote and has demanded snap elections. Sharif’s government rejected Khan’s demand and says the next elections will be held as per the schedule next year.

Khan initially enjoyed excellent ties with his army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa. But he resisted the appointment of a new spy chief by Bajwa who wanted to replace Lt. Gen. Faiz Hameed, the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence. Eventually, Bajwa removed Khan’s favorite spy chief Hameed, which caused a rift between Khan and Bajwa and it eventually led to his ouster.

The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 75 years.

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