Imran Khan's party gains ground in Pakistan pre-election polls

Imran Khan, head of political party Pakistan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, speaks to supporters as the country gears up for general elections, in Karachi, Pakistan, on July 4, 2018.
Imran Khan, head of political party Pakistan Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, speaks to supporters as the country gears up for general elections, in Karachi, Pakistan, on July 4, 2018. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ISLAMABAD (REUTERS) - The Pakistani opposition party led by former cricket star Imran Khan is gaining ground in opinion polls ahead of a July 25 general election, with one survey showing it pulling ahead of the ruling party and another showing it only slightly behind.

A survey by Pulse Consultant showed Mr Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Justice Movement) ahead with the support of 30 per cent of respondents nationwide, compared to 27 per cent for its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was at 17 per cent.

A separate nationwide poll by Gallup Pakistan had PML-N on top with 26 per cent, PTI with 25 per cent and the PPP at 16 per cent.

Both polls were commissioned by Pakistan's Jang Media Group and were published on Wednesday (July 4) in its affiliated newspaper, The News. They each surveyed about 3,000 people, with a margin of error of 1.6 per cent for the Pulse survey and 2-3 per cent for Gallup.

The new polls indicate a swing towards Mr Khan's party compared to similar nationwide polls in 2017, which put the PML-N 8-9 percentage points ahead of PTI.

Mr Khan's political fortunes have improved since PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif was removed as prime minister by the Supreme Court last year over undeclared assets.

Mr Sharif, who was disqualified from politics for life, now faces a verdict in an anti-corruption court on Friday along with his daughter Maryam, who is running for parliament. The case, which concerns the purchase of luxury apartments in London, could see Mr Sharif jailed and Ms Maryam disqualified.

Mr Sharif requested on Wednesday that the authorities delay the verdict until he returns to Pakistan from London, where he is taking care of his ailing wife. He said he would be back as soon as his wife's condition improves.

"I want to hear that decision in person standing in the courtroom," he told a press conference in London televised live by Pakistani TV channels.

Asked if he would go back home regardless of the outcome in the case, Mr Sharif said: "If it comes in my favour, or, God forbid, it comes against me, I will go back."

Mr Sharif has accused the military and courts of conspiring to oust him and using legal cases and intimidation to help Mr Khan's PTI party, accusations denied by Mr Khan, the army and the judiciary.

Mr Khan, a former cricket captain of Pakistan, has portrayed the legal cases as a long-overdue corruption crackdown on the PML-N, which he has labelled a graft-ridden "mafia".