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Pakistan populist Imran Khan claims election victory amid fraud allegations

Imran Khan is one of Pakistan's most famous men and the likely next prime minister. He says his victory is the end of the dynastic cronyism that's dominated Pakistani politics and its two main parties. But his opponents instead see manipulation. Nick Schifrin reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We return to the election in Pakistan, where there has been a major shakeup in that country's politics. The apparent winner of yesterday's vote doesn't come from one of the two prominent political parties that have dominated elections in the past.

    Nick Schifrin has the story.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    For the supporters of a charismatic-celebrity-turned populist politician, it's a moment of celebration.

    For only the second time in its history, Pakistan is conducting a democratic transition. And one of the country's most famous men is declaring victory on behalf of the people.

  • Imran Khan (through translator):

    Today, I pledge you and promise to you I will take care of your money and we will reduce the government's expenses.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Sixty-six-year-old Imran Khan is Pakistan's likely next prime minister. He says his victory is the end of the dynastic cronyism that's dominated Pakistani politics and its two main political parties.

  • Imran Khan:

    The reason why we are in politics is to break the stranglehold of these two parties who have plundered this country, and time and time again taken turns in governing the country.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But what Khan considers vindication, his opponents call manipulation.

    Pakistan's army and intelligence services exert outsize influence on politics. They are accused of colluding with the judiciary to ensure former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif couldn't retain power.

    Shahbaz Sharif is Nawaz Sharif's brother.

  • Shahbaz Sharif (through translator):

    For all the people who came to cast their votes across all of Pakistan, this kind of abuse, this mistreatment is injustice.

  • Moeed Yusuf:

    If you're looking for the words free and fair in the pre-poll period, this wasn't it.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Moeed Yusuf is the U.S. Institute of Peace's Associate vice president for Asia. He says the military opposed Nawaz Sharif's efforts to reduce its influence and lower tensions with longtime rival India.

    So it helped ensure Nawaz Sharif was sentenced and jailed on corruption charges.

  • Moeed Yusuf:

    And the kind of attitude and aggression that the judiciary showed towards Nawaz Sharif, the way they heard his cases on a daily basis, there was clearly an expedited process. The military was behind the scenes. Once he took on the military openly, I think the decision was made that Nawaz will not be prime minister.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the election commission today called the vote fair. And Khan appealed to a population who believed the traditional elite could no longer deliver results, says columnist and former senior foreign ministry official Mosharraf Zaidi.

  • Mosharraf Zaidi:

    This is broadly representative of the will of the Pakistani people. He claims to be a change from the past, a break from the traditional politics in Pakistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Khan was a sports star and won the country's only cricket World Cup. He was garlanded a hero, and became one the country's most famous men.

    He was also a paparazzi pin-up on Pepsi commercials. And the British media, after he graduated from Oxford, highlighted his bachelor's life.

    But, in 1996, he traded glitz for the grit of Pakistani politics, and founded the Pakistan Movement for Justice, or PTI. He called Pakistan's civilian rulers corrupt and its former military leaders autocratic.

    For that, he was pushed into the back of police trucks. But Khan also pushed toward religion and the right. He's expressed support for Islamist politicians and strict Islamic law, earning him the nickname Taliban Khan.

    And he took aim at the U.S. He led protests against the CIA's drone campaign and the war in Afghanistan. He's accused the U.S. of purposely trying to destabilize Pakistan.

  • Imran Khan (through translator):

    We will awaken all Pakistanis. God willing, we will put pressure on America. If drone attacks are not stopped, our protest will continue all over Pakistan.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But in today's acceptance speech, Khan indicated willingness to work with the U.S.

  • Imran Khan (through translator):

    Until now, our relations with the U.S. has been one way. The U.S. thinks that they fund Pakistan in order to fight their war. But Pakistan has suffered great loss. Now we want a balanced relationship.

  • Mosharraf Zaidi:

    I think this is one of those areas in which Imran Khan might be able to have his cake and eat it too. I think he will continue to articulate a kind of strong nationalistic position.

    But, concurrently, he is going to have to be conciliatory toward the United States in order to ensure that Pakistan continues to have the things that it needs from the United States.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Pakistan relies on U.S. technology. The U.S. needs Pakistan to crack down on militants the U.S. says are shielded by Pakistani intelligence. Khan inherits a tense relationship, and his party has never before controlled foreign policy.

  • Moeed Yusuf:

    If this is the party that is going to lead 210 million people, a nuclear power, you can't just ignore it. You have got to have a relationship. And the quicker both sides start building that rapport, I think the better it is.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That might be helped by similarities between Khan and President Trump. Both overcame elite, liberal backgrounds to create populist, nationalist credentials.

  • Mosharraf Zaidi:

    Imran Khan represents a strong, muscular nationalism, which is very much what Donald Trump is about, so maybe these two men get along like a house on fire.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Khan first faces domestic challenges. He will inherit a country with widespread poverty, low health outcomes, and ballooning debt. And that means, even with military support, he faces incredibly high expectations from a population eager for a break from the past.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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