Pakistan Election 2013: Can Sympathy For Imran Khan's Fall Turn Into Votes On Election Day?

In a bizarre accident, former cricket player and Pakistani prime-minister candidate Imran Khan fell from a makeshift elevator, getting badly injured as a result. He sustained several head injuries as well as spinal cord fractures, condemning him to a few weeks of bed rest in order to make a full recovery. Supporters and well-wishers gathered outside the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Trust (SKMT), where he has been admitted — a cancer hospital that was founded by Khan himself.

While Khan's fall was not part of a heroic antic, it undoubtedly created a wave of sympathy, not just among his followers but also among others in Pakistan and abroad. As fellow PolicyMic writer Areej Siddiqui points out, even Khan's opponents have shown a softer side on this occasion, a gesture that makes sense given the stature of Khan as a national hero. Analysts are pondering as early whether this will affect the outcome of the May 11 elections.

Khan is immensely popular in Pakistan and has strong influence in foreign circles. Below are just a few of the many well-wishers that conveyed their sympathies on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter to the former cricket captain:

Former cricket legend Brian Lara’s message for Khan shortly after his fall was immensely popular on Twitter:

 

 

 Renowned Pakistani journalist Hassan Nisar tweeted a heartfelt message to his followers:

 

Former MTV VJ and Muslim convert and activist Kristiane Backer, who was first introduced to Islam by Khan, said the following:

 

 And this meme became viral on Facebook and Twitter hours after Khan’s fall:

 

While Khan is expected to make a full recovery, some are speculating on how the fall might affect the upcoming election. Commentators and pundits alike are asserting that that Khan could garner a surprising number of sympathy votes as a result of the accident, but predictions of sympathy votes in the past haven't always turned out as expected.

In 2007, Benazir Bhutto, former leader of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was assassinated while campaigning for elections. Her supporters and others grieved over her untimely and horrible death at the hands of the Taliban, and PPP workers and others took to the streets to express their support. Bhutto's own workers assumed a surge in support after her death, especially in a toxic election environment where former President Pervez Musharraf’s inability to provide Bhutto with appropriate security had further infuriated her enthusiasts.

In Pakistan, obsession with individual personalities is a trending factor in the country’s election cycle. Benazir’s father Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the PPP, garnered immense support when he was hanged unjustly at the hands of General Zia-Ul-Haq, the then dictatorial army chief and president of Pakistan. This was seen as a tremendous boost for Benazir 10 years later (in the 1988 general elections), as she manipulated the political landscape successfully under the shadow of her late father’s controversial death.

The chances that Khan would somehow benefit from this episode are yet to be seen. The circumstances are different and the incident was an accident rather than a politically motivated attack like that on the Bhuttos. Nevertheless, known for his relentless determination, Khan's heartfelt message to the nation from his ICU room only hours after his freakish fall could lead to a new wave of positive sentiment among voters on the fence.

As Pakistan is a few days away from the first democratic transition of power in its history, time will tell if Khan’s accident becomes the impetus for a sudden rise in votes for the PTI. However, like him or not, if Khan’s injures had been life-threatening, a surge of remorse would have run throughout the country. Known for his determination and unscathed integrity, Khan is not only a standup personality, but an individual whose accomplishments few can surpass.

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Usaid (Muneeb) Siddiqui

Completed my MA in International Relations from University of Sussex and a BSc from University of Toronto. Interested in Current Affairs with a focus on Pakistan, the Middle East and Religion. Currently living in Toronto, Canada. Follow me on Twitter @UsaidMuneeb16

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