His political party is effectively banned, his speeches are barred from television, and he faces at least 14 years in prison. But as the Pakistan election results show, Imran Khan cannot be suppressed.
Independent candidates affiliated with the former prime minister’s Pakistan Tehereek-e-Insaf (PTI) party secured the most parliamentary seats in last week’s nationwide election, the election commission announced Sunday.
It is a stunning victory for an incarcerated Khan who, two years ago faced a dramatic ouster as prime minister and most recently faced a military-led crackdown analysts say was designed to thwart the cricket icon’s return to power.
“You kept my trust, and your massive turnout has stunned everyone,” an AI-generated video of Khan shared by the PTI that mimicked his voice, said to his millions of followers shortly after his victory. “Now show the strength of protecting your vote.” Khan’s team has previously used AI to deliver his speeches from behind bars.
The continued success of Khan aligned candidates marks a seismic moment in the country’s recent history: It has delivered a stinging rebuke to the powerful military, a usually untouchable force that has long sat at the apex of power in Pakistan and – according to Khan’s aides and many supporters – cracked down on his party.
“As a Pakistani, it was profoundly empowering to witness the collective outcry against injustice manifested through the ballot,” said Hashim Ali Dogar, 20, from the city of Lahore.
“We have demonstrated our resilience in the face of injustice against political victimization, and we stand ready to do so again.”