By Chris Kay & Ismail Dilawar
Imran Khan stepped onto a makeshift stage in a trash-ridden Karachi district at 1 a.m. to address hundreds of supporters who’d been waiting for hours. His message: vote out the city’s rulers who have failed to provide jobs, education, sanitation and healthcare.
“This is the first opportunity to free yourselves — they, despite taking turns for the last 30 years, couldn’t give you basic facilities,” Khan told the cheering crowd gathered on Wednesday in Pakistan’s financial capital of 15 million people that’s beset with water shortages. His aim? “To make an Islamic welfare state out of Pakistan.”
On a chaotic two-day campaign tour of Karachi ahead of July 25 elections, the opposition leader and former cricket star told Bloomberg that Pakistan’s economy can only be fixed by overhauling its corrupt state institutions. Lamenting the piles of roadside garbage while waving to supporters from a white Toyota Land Cruiser protected by police commandos, Khan, 65, outlined plans to expand social spending while fixing the nation’s finances.
If elected he would break the dynastic hold on Pakistani politics. Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and the Pakistan Peoples Party led by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of assassinated former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, have between bouts of military rule rotated power for decades. Seen as an untested force, some investors are also cautious over the prospect of Khan coming to power.
Khan said he’ll need loans to fund those short term ambitions, which include creating five million “cheap” homes within five years. He said his Movement for Justice party isn’t ruling out the need for support from the International Monetary Fund. In May, Asad Umar, who is pegged to become the finance minister if Khan is elected, told Bloomberg the nation is close to bankruptcy, so whoever comes to power will need a bailout.
“We’re discussing this, we’re still in the process of working out our options right now, because we face the biggest economic crisis in our history,’’ Khan said. “Pakistan has to be a welfare state — but for that obviously you need reventues.”
Khan, who first entered politics in the 1990s, is riding a wave of support on the back of his anti-graft campaign, which ousted his main opponent Sharif from power last year over corruption charges. A Gallup Pakistan poll published this week indicates Khan is closing the gap with Sharif’s party, which is campaigning for re-election on its record of boosting infrastructure spending, improving security and reducing power cuts. In the poll, 26 percent said they will vote for the PML-N, down from 34 percent in November. About 25 percent said they’ll support Khan’s party.