On May 11, cricketing legend Imran Khan and his Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party will attempt to claim their first general election victory since their founding in 1996. Despite their limited tangible power at present, the PTI will hope that Khan ( Pakistan’s most popular politician) will be able to secure the position of prime minister, and break up the dominance of Pakistan’s two main parties. If they are to do so, however, they will need demographics to swing in their favour.
Up to 200,000 people turned out to see Khan at a rally on Saturday, March 23, his biggest so far. The rally, which took place on the 73rd anniversary of Indian Muslims' request for a homeland of their own, also featured 80,000 office bearers of the party. The party are attempting to put their previous lack of election progress behind them, and with Khan being labelled a 'wildcard' for a May 11 victory, they appear to have succeeded.
Before being cut short by torrential rain, Khan laid out 6 promises that he would keep were he to achieve an unexpected victory. These included keeping his own wealth inside Pakistan, and a refusal to spend tax revenue on government residences. More ambiguously, he also promised to wage 'Jihad' against injustice in the country, refuse to lie to the nation, and stand by overseas Pakistanis.
Despite Khan’s reassuring words at the rally, he has also courted controversy. Khan has vowed to take a stand against drone strikes, clean up corruption, and push for justice. His criticism of the United States has not been helped by his reluctance to criticize the Taliban. While not necessarily harmful in an election campaign, it has provided a cause for concern in some circles.
Khan will attempt to utilise the youth vote and will require their votes if he is to reach his goal. The good news for Khan is that Pakistan’s 'youth bulge' has altered the electoral roll. 47.5% of Pakistan’s registered voters are under 35, and 19.77% are under 25, which will obviously include a considerable portion of new voters. Given the country’s dismal election turnout that typically ranges between 32 and 36%, there is considerable potential to court new voters and cause an upset. While youth turnout in elections is rarely strong in any election, this is certainly the PTI’s potential road to victory.
Victory, however, would be a big ask. 272 seats would be required, which would be an extraordinary amount for a party that has been predicted to win up to 40. A more conservative number could leave Khan’s party as 'kingmakers' in a hung parliament, allowing them to form a government with one of the other major parties. This would, nonetheless, represent a huge move forward for the party, albeit not the outright victory that Khan expects.
A victory for the PTI in the upcoming election will largely depend on the youth turnout that can be mustered. The extent of their power will be determined by their ability to claim this usually inconsistent voting block. Imran Khan’s generally populist rhetoric and near-universal appeal appears to hold the best chance of appealing to the demographic.