Pakistan: Imran Khan supporters protest as the new parliament is sworn in

The swearing-in of newly elected lawmakers of Pakistan's National Assembly on Thursday was marred by protests by supporters of imprisoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who claimed the poll was unfair.

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Lawmakers from Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party chanted "Vote-thief!" as Shehbaz Sharif, the projected leader of the new government, approached parliament with his brother Nawaz Sharif, both former prime ministers.

The outgoing National Assembly Speaker, Raja Pervez Ashraf, oversaw the swearing-in ceremony at noon, amid chants of "Long Live Sharif!" as the Sharif brothers registered their presence and took their oaths. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party and a significant ally of the Sharifs, was also greeted with similar chants.

The incoming government faces a multitude of challenges, including an increase in militant attacks, energy shortages, and a struggling economy that may necessitate seeking further assistance from the International Monetary Fund. PTI lawmakers vowed to continue their protest against the alleged election rigging both within and outside the parliament. Gohar Ali Khan, current head of the PTI, asserted, "Yes, the election has been rigged."

PTI has called for nationwide rallies on Saturday, claiming that election results were manipulated in numerous constituencies to hinder their chances of securing a majority, a claim refuted by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Following the February 8 elections, while observers from the Commonwealth commended election officials for conducting the vote despite security challenges, the US State Department criticised the limitations on freedoms of expression, association, and peaceful assembly during the electoral process. The European Union also voiced concerns over the exclusion of certain political actors. However, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry defended the election's integrity.

The Pakistan Muslim League Party (PML-N), led by Sharif, and the Pakistan People’s Party of former President Asif Ali Zardari emerged as the dominant forces in the National Assembly after the vote. Under a power-sharing arrangement, Sharif's party will back Zardari in the upcoming presidential elections. Outgoing President Arif Alvi, a PTI ally, will step down next month.

Khan, currently serving prison sentences on various charges, including corruption, faces legal battles and has been disqualified from holding office. His party's recent plea to the IMF to investigate the alleged election irregularities has drawn criticism from opponents, including Sharif, who aim to steer the country's economy amid IMF negotiations.

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