LAHORE – Cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan on Saturday made six promises to the nation to bring a real change in the country setting to motion Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s election campaign formally with his address to a gathering of tens of thousands of followers at the historic Iqbal Park in Lahore. Khan called for four undertakings from the Pakistani people, but could not present his party manifesto as the meeting was wrapped up by a heavy downpour later in the evening.
Striking a personal chord with his followers, the PTI chief even offered to be removed by the masses and office-bearers of his party if he failed to fulfill his promises after coming to power. “I promise I will always speak the truth; I promise the PTI manifesto will be implemented in letter and spirit,” Khan added.
After over a decade of trying to gain a foothold in Pakistani politics, he has finally elbowed his way into the big league. Casting himself as a populist anti-corruption crusader challenging the traditional political elites, he is seen as a threat to the two parties that have long dominated elections.
Nevertheless, observers say Khan’s Saturday political tide clearly lacked public fanfare compared to his first tsunami wave at the same venue nearly one-and-a-half year ago in October.
Khan promised he would pay the farmers due price of crops, raise salaries of the working and labour classes, besides taking up the issue of drone attacks with the US forcefully.
In his second promise, the PTI chief covenanted to wage a jihad to end oppression and oppressive forces in Pakistan. “We will ensure rights to all the oppressed communities, including the small farmers, women, minorities and others. We will end injustices against the people of Balochistan, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. We will ensure justice to the poor and downtrodden populace.”
Making his third promise, Khan said, “All my assets will be in Pakistan and open for accountability to my party men and the masses. I will live and die in Pakistan and never leave the country in hard times like other politicians.”
“I will never take any benefit while in power, and will also not to be taken advantage of by my relatives, party men and any officer of the government, nor will I follow dynastic politics,” Khan said in his third promise imploring voters to take the call of their conscience.
His fifth promise said, “I will protect the taxes of the people, never try to write off loans, and ensure usage of tax money for the welfare of the masses. The PTI if voted to power will turn the big buildings, like governor houses, into huge playgrounds and libraries”.
“I along with the entire nation stand by the overseas Pakistanis in time of any injustice against them and press the country of their residence for provision of prompt justice,” the PTI chairman said in his last promise, asserting no traditional political party would be able to stop PTI’s tsunami in the coming elections.
Calling for four undertakings from the nation, the PTI chairman said, “They should stand shoulder-to-shoulder with him to wage a jihad on all kinds of injustices in the country”. Demanding another undertaking from the masses, he said, “Being a nation, we should always speak the truth and restore the lost identity of the country.” In another undertaking from the nation, he demanded, “All the people should become volunteers of change to counter the influence of money-barons.”
In the fourth undertaking, he called for a promise from them to convert the country into a real Islamic welfare state.
Khan could not present his party manifesto as the public meeting had to be concluded due to a heavy downpour. The manifesto is set to be made public in another meeting or may be released through the media shortly.
Also, the oath-taking of the elected office-bearers of the PTI could not take place due to the rain torrent.
Major participants of the meeting comprised youth. Participation of women and families was minimal as compared to PTI’s last show on October 30, 2011. Moreover, the show of strength in the political bastion of former premier Nawaz Sharif-led Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz would serve as a wakeup call for the Sharifs of Lahore in the run up to the general elections in May this year.
Observers say around 80,000 elected office-bearers of the PTI reached Minar-e-Pakistan from different parts of the country in caravans. One of the unique features of this public meeting was the display of hundreds of feet long party flag over a big portion of the gathering.
Observers are of the opinion that the overall arrangements of the public meeting were mismanaged by PTI Lahore leaders, as they failed in their first test after getting the Lahore seat in the recent intra-party polls.
Songs eulogizing the party were also sung by famous singer and PTI leader Ibrar-ul-Haq, Salman Ahmed and others.
The 60-year-old Khan is shaping up to be the biggest wildcard in the May 11 parliamentary election – the first transition between democratically elected governments. Much of Khan’s support has come from young, middle class Pakistanis in the country’s major cities, a potentially influential group. Almost half of Pakistan’s more than 80 million registered voters are under the age of 35, but the key question is whether Khan can get his young supporters to show up at the polling booth on election day. But it’s uncertain how effective he will be in converting his personal appeal into votes for his party.
Many analysts are less bullish and believe the PTI will win 20-40 seats, many of them in urban areas of Punjab. Many predict the PML-N, which is led by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, will benefit from broad discontent and lead the polls, while the PTI will come in third behind the recently ruling PPP.
Khan hopes the momentum from the rally will push forward what he calls his political ”tsunami” and help his party win a majority of the 272 National Assembly seats that are up for election. That would allow Khan to form the next government and position him to become prime minister.