Pakistan extends deadline for election nominations to Sunday

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) -Pakistan pushed back by two days a Friday deadline for candidates to file nomination papers for a national election, the election commission said, allowing extra time for former prime ministers Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif to enter the race.

“The deadline for submission of nomination papers has been extended by two days to facilitate political parties and candidates,” the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) said in a statement on Friday.

The ECP said the rest of the schedule, leading to voting on Feb. 8 for members of provincial and national legislatures, would remain unchanged.

Khan, 71, filed nomination papers for the election on Friday, Intezar Hussain Panjotha, a member of Khan’s legal team, told Reuters.

The former cricket star filed papers to contest a national assembly seat from his hometown Mianwali and plans to file again for a seat from Lahore on Saturday, added Panjotha.

Khan, who is in jail facing charges ranging from corruption to leaking state secrets, signed his nomination papers in Adiala Jail on Thursday, local broadcaster Geo said.

Khan and Sharif had said they would submit their nominations despite a ban on their participation due to court convictions. Both are awaiting relief from higher courts that would allow them to participate.

Khan’s chances of running were dealt a blow when a court on Thursday rejected a plea to suspend a conviction on charges of unlawfully selling state gifts during his 2018-2022 tenure as prime minister. His lawyers have challenged the decision in the Supreme Court.

In a statement delivered through his lawyer early on Friday, Khan said “coercive and brutal attempts” were being made to prevent candidates of his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), from running by arresting and harassing them.

PTI, which won the last national election in 2018 that brought Khan to power for the first time, also said the houses of some of its candidates were raided on Thursday night.

Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi, the spokesman for the current interim government who is tasked with overseeing the polls, did not respond to requests for comment on the allegations.

Pakistan’s election commission on Friday ruled that Khan’s party will not be allowed to use its traditional election symbol of a cricket bat in upcoming national elections. The commission declared that PTI intra-party elections in December were void. The party needed to hold those elections to retain the symbol.

Khan warned that the lack of free, fair and transparent elections would lead to political instability which would, in turn, hit the already struggling $350 billion economy.

He said his party’s support for an International Monetary Fund programme was contingent on free and fair elections.

The ECP will accept nomination papers until Sunday. A final list of candidates who have qualified for participation will be released on Jan. 11.

(Additional reporting by Ariba Shahid and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Michael Perry and Cynthia Osterman)