Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Imran Khan will be disqualified from holding political office for five years, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ruled on Friday, a move likely to further inflame political tensions in the country.
While reading out the recommendation, ECP chief Sikandar Sultan Raja stated that Khan was disqualified for being involved in “corrupt practices.”
The commission said its decision was based on the grounds that Khan had “made false statements” regarding the declaration of the sale of gifts sent to him by the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Dubai while in office – an offense that is illegal under the country’s constitution.
There had been a heavy police presence outside the election commission’s office in the capital Islamabad on Friday, in anticipation of protests by Khan’s supporters. Paramilitary troops have been deployed across the city and the Red Zone, which encases major government buildings, including the election commission, has been mostly sealed off to traffic.
At a press conference right after the announcement by the ECP, leaders from Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-insaf (PTI), have said that they will take the matter to the Islamabad High Court, claiming that the ECP’s decision was “biased.”
PTI leader Fawad Chaudhry said Friday this was the “beginning of a revolution” and called for supporters to “come out of their homes and take to the streets to uphold the constitution.”
The announcement raises the prospect of Khan being unable to stand in the next general election, expected in 2023. CNN has reached out to Khan’s lawyer for comment.
The commission’s ruling is the latest in a series of setbacks for Khan, who was dramatically removed from office in a vote of no confidence in April.
The Pakistan Democratic Movement political party, which is part of the country’s ruling coalition that ousted Khan from power, had pushed for the commission’s investigation.
However, the cricketer-turned-populist leader maintains widespread popularity.
He has repeatedly claimed that his removal from office was the result of a US-led conspiracy against him. He has also alleged the current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the Pakistani military were behind his ousting.
His claims have struck a chord with a young population in a country where anger and disillusionment with the political and military establishment is being fueled by a rising cost-of-living crisis and anti-American sentiment is common.
The US, the ruling coalition and the Pakistani military have all denied Khan’s allegations.
His enduring popularity has translated to recent provincial election victories for his party and he has repeatedly called for a new parliamentary vote at mass rallies held since his ouster.
Khan has repeatedly called for early elections and has said he will lead his supporters in a long march to Islamabad.