Islamabad: The brother of Pakistan’s ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif Thursday accused the country’s caretaker government of “naked” pre-poll rigging against their party, as tensions rise ahead of the July 25 election.
Shahbaz Sharif, who heads the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, accused authorities of arresting hundreds of PML-N workers and supporters ahead of Nawaz’s expected return to Pakistan on Friday.
The former prime minister was sentenced in absentia last week to 10 years in prison by a corruption court over the purchase of high-end properties in London, dealing a serious blow to his party’s bid to win a second consecutive election.
“Hundreds of our workers have been arrested in Punjab (province)… and locked up for 30 days,” Shahbaz said at a press conference in Lahore, the provincial capital.
“It is naked pre-poll rigging.”
Shahbaz served three terms as chief minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province and a PML-N stronghold.
He is spearheading the election campaign of the party, which suffered a major setback last July when Nawaz Sharif was ousted as prime minister by the Supreme Court on corruption charges. He was later barred from politics for life.
Nawaz is currently in London where his wife is being treated for cancer, and has said he will return to Pakistan despite the prison sentence. Pakistan has no extradition treaty with the United Kingdom.
His younger brother said that despite the wave of police raids and arrests, thousands of supporters will go to the Lahore airport to welcome Nawaz, who remains a powerful symbol for his party.
“The whole world knows that PML-N is being targeted,” Shahbaz said. “We’ll go to the airport tomorrow despite this brutality, and we will remain completely peaceful.”
A senior police official in Lahore told AFP that “at least 250 activists” from Sharif’s party were arrested.
Authorities have identified at least 50 locations in the city to block with freight containers on Friday if needed, the police official added, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
Pakistan’s July 25 election will pit the PML-N against its main rival, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is led by cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan.
The poll would be only the second-ever democratic transfer of power in the South Asian country.
Nawaz Sharif was the 15th prime minister in Pakistan’s 70-year history — roughly half of it under military rule — to be removed before completing a full term.
The military remains the most powerful institution in the country, and has faced allegations in recent months that it is pressuring the media and politicians in a bid to manipulate the polls against the PML-N.
The military has denied the accusations, and said it has “no direct role” in the elections.