FACTBOX-Who are the key players in Pakistan’s general election?


Pakistan's general election

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan holds its national elections on Thursday as the country grapples with an economic crisis and political uncertainty following the ouster of former prime minister Imran Khan in 2022.

Here are some facts about the main political figures trying to lead the nuclear-armed nation of 241 million people.

NAWAZ SHARIF

Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is considered a front-runner to lead the country, having buried a long-running feud with the country’s powerful military, analysts say.

The 74-year-old chief of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and three-time former prime minister returned from a four-year self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom late last year, having contested the last election from a jail cell.

His convictions for corruption – which he denies – and a lifetime ban from politics were overturned by courts and his party has said he is aiming to be prime minister for a fourth time to revive the country’s struggling economy and reign in soaring inflation.

But there are questions over his health and willingness to lead a government if his party does not get a clear majority and has to cobble a coalition.

MARYAM NAWAZ SHARIF

The daughter of Nawaz, she plays an influential role in the PML-N, and has been presented by her father as his political heir apparent. She is senior vice president of the party.

Maryam, 50, was jailed along with her father shortly before the 2018 elections on corruption charges, which were later overturned.

She has not previously held office, but has led many rallies during her father’s self-imposed exile and taken his side on the campaign trail in recent weeks. Analysts have noted that she has been the main speaker at PML-N political gatherings instead of Nawaz.

SHEHBAZ SHARIF

The younger brother of Nawaz, he led a coalition government for 16 months following the ouster of Imran Khan in 2022 until parliament was dissolved and a caretaker government took over in August to prepare for national elections.

Shehbaz Sharif, 72, had previously served as chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, and helped Pakistan avert a financial crisis last year by striking a deal with the International Monetary Fund after tenuous, delayed negotiations for another bailout package.

The role Shehbaz will play with his elder brother back in Pakistan is not clear, but he is believed to be closer to Pakistan’s powerful military than Nawaz and has long been an intermediary between the two – which will be a key role if his party wins and forms the government.

IMRAN KHAN

The embattled former prime minister is spending the election period in a jail cell, having been imprisoned since August and receiving multi-year bans from taking part in politics over a plethora of corruption and criminal charges.

The former cricket star denies wrongdoing and has blamed the country’s powerful generals, who he fell out with in the lead-up to a no-confidence vote in 2022. The military denies meddling in politics.

Nevertheless, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has tried to wage an unorthodox election campaign using social media and covert canvassing. They have registered party members as independents after the election commission ruled the party itself cannot run and stripped it of its famous cricket bat symbol.

Analysts say Khan, 71, remains popular and candidates affiliated with his party may attract votes but likely not in the numbers needed to form a government. While he has said his independent candidates would not back any other party, the temptation to jump Khan’s ship and join anyone forming the government will be high.

His lawyers say he is appealing his sentences, the longest 14 years in prison.

BILAWAL BHUTTO ZARDARI

Bilawal Bhutto Zardari who was the country’s foreign minister until a caretaker government took over late last year, is the son of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007 during an election campaign when Bhutto Zardari was a teenager. His father, Asif Ali Zardari, was president of Pakistan from 2008 to 2013.

Bhutto Zardari, 35, has been running one of the most prominent campaigns, appearing throughout the country, saying he is focusing the country’s huge youth population and addressing impacts of climate change, which have wreaked havoc in his southern Sindh province.

Though not expected to win outright, his party could play king-maker with no one party projected to win the majority of seats in the country’s parliament.

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