Government wants to get rid of Imran Khan but his popularity keeps rising

The chances of a deal with the International Monetary Fund are receding. Media regulators have banned the broadcast of the former prime minister's speeches, while the High Court has ordered his arrest. Meanwhile, people are increasingly unhappy about the economic situation.

Islamabad (AsiaNews) – Pakistan’s media regulator on Sunday banned airing speeches by former Prime Minister Imran Khan and then suspended the licence of a television channel that defied the order.

On the same day, an arrest warrant was issued for Khan, who is also the leader of the Pakistan's Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to ensure his presence in court where he is on trial for not disclosing gifts he received from foreign dignitaries. Despite this, his popularity is growing.

Against this background, Pakistan’s chances to strike a deal with the International Monetary Fund to save the country’s economy are receding.

On Sunday, Khan spoke in Lahore in which he again accused current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of corruption and claimed that the former army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, was responsible for his removal from office.

In April 2022, Pakistan's parliament approved a no-confidence vote against Khan. His resignation led to the formation of a new government led by Sharif. Since then, the ousted prime minister has never stopped pushing conspiracy theories, lashing out at the "establishment" and calling for early elections, set for October this year.

In November 2022, during a protest, he was shot in the leg. Shortly afterwards the local governments of the provinces of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where the PTI enjoyed a large majority, were dissolved.

The Election Commission is expected to announce in the coming days when provincial elections will be held; for its part, the PTI claims that they are usually held together with federal elections.

The police sent to arrest the former prime minister in Lahore were prevented from carrying out their task by Khan supporters who surrounded his residence. As a result, he was not at today's hearing.

Islamabad High Court reserved its ruling on Khan’s case ordering his legal team to set a date for his court hearing. His lawyers argue that Khan cannot appear in court because he already faces hearings in other cases.

In light of this and the attempt to undermine popular support for Imran Khan, the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) late on Sunday banned television broadcasters from airing Khan’s speech in Lahore because he was “levelling baseless allegations and spreading hate speech through his provocative statements against state institutions and officers which is prejudicial to the maintenance of law and order and is likely to disturb public peace and tranquillity”.

As a result, private broadcaster Ary News, which defied the ban, had its license suspended.

These actions by the government designed to get rid of Imran Khan from the political scene are, however, having the opposite effect.

According to a Gallup Pakistan poll released today, the PTI leader’s approval rating rose to 61 per cent, while a good percentage (53 per cent), perhaps tired of political in-fighting, would be in favour of a technocratic government.

Meanwhile, a large part of the population is beginning to blame the government for the country's economic woes.

Inflation could average 33 per cent in the first half of the year before dropping, this according to economic research firm Moody's Analytics, while the consumer price index rose to 31.5 per cent last month, the highest figure in 50 years.

What is more, “an IMF bailout alone isn't going to be enough to get the economy back on track. What the economy really needs is persistent and sound economic management," said senior economist Katrina Ell cited by Reuters.

In early February, an IMF delegation left Islamabad without an agreement after 10 days of talks.