According to an influential American newspaper Washington Post, the real contest is between them as the race is narrowing down to the respective political parties of the two leaders.
The PPP is trailing after a five-year rule that many Pakistanis say crippled the economy, stoked poverty, failed to solve energy shortages and left the country less secure, The Washington Post, citing analysts, reported from Rawalpindi on Tuesday.
But then the Post posed the key question:
Can a cricket bat tame a lion?
“The man behind the bat is Imran Khan, a cricket hero turned populist politician and Western media darling. The lion – or sometimes tiger, depending on who made the sign – represents Nawaz Sharif, a two-time Prime Minister who many pundits predict will regain the job after 14 years, thanks to his formidable political machine,” The Post correspondent, Richard Leiby, wrote.
“Washington is closely following the race because Pakistan, its fickle ally, is vital to brokering peace with the Taliban in Afghanistan; it also has close ties to Iran and China, not to mention a nuclear arsenal,” the dispatch said.
“No matter who wins, none of the parties is expected to dramatically alter their country’s relationship with the United States, Pakistan’s most devoted military and financial patron since President Harry S. Truman’s first term.”
“Beset by near-constant political instability, Pakistan has seen three military coups since its founding — including the one in 1999 that ousted Nawaz Sharif, whose Pakistan Muslim League-N led the Parliamentary Opposition during the just-concluded term of the People’s Party-led government.The Army continues to wield great influence behind the scenes but evinces no interest in running the government and has pledged to protect poll-goers.”
Among four seats Khan, who heads the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, is running for is NA-56, where he is vying against a Nawaz Sharif loyalist named Hanif Abbasi, a pharmaceuticals businessman who held it for five years in the last Parliament.
Abbasi, it was pointed out, used his party clout to build — part of a traffic-improvement scheme in Rawalpindi, where commercial corridors are frequently clogged.
The dispatch said, “Abbasi is running a ground game reminiscent of those seen in US races where incumbents promise to continue to reward constituents with publicly funded projects. While in office, Abbasi said, he delivered to his district cardiology and urology hospitals, high schools and roads. Now he is promising more health care facilities, cricket stadiums and even a hockey field with Astroturf. “Although Khan has gained some popularity in NA-56, he can’t boast of any similar sweeteners. His message is macro: It’s time, he says, to toss out the ‘status quo’ parties and elites who have enriched themselves through a corrupt system that shuts out the common man.”
“Eighty to 90 per cent of Pakistanis feel the country is moving in the wrong direction,” Asad Umar, Khan’s national campaign manager, was quoted as saying. “Having a nicer road or a sewage system does not compensate for not having a job, for a lack of security, for a lack of justice. It doesn’t get your child in school.”
Despite a relentless campaign for Prime Minister that has spanned two years, Khan is still considered a long shot whose party may only garner 30 to 40 seats, the Post said.
Umar called that prediction “errantly nonsensical.” Many Khan supporters, he said, are newly registered young people or other political first-timers and those who have given up voting out of disgust with the traditional parties.