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Pakistan's Largest City Elects Prisoner As New Mayor

Karachi's new mayor Waseem Akhtar (right) cast his ballot in the mayoral election under police escort.
Karachi's new mayor Waseem Akhtar (right) cast his ballot in the mayoral election under police escort.

Pakistan’s largest city Karachi has elected as mayor a politician who is currently in jail on sedition and terrorism charges.

Waseem Akhtar, a former minister and lawmaker from the powerful Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), won the poll with 196 of the 294 votes cast by the city's municipal authorities.

Akhtar was arrested in July and accused of ordering a bloody crackdown on riots in 2007 when he was serving as provincial home minister. He was later arrested on sedition and terrorism charges.

Politicians can govern from prison under Pakistani law, although it is still unclear how Akhtar would run the city behind bars. He is not expected to be released by the courts before he takes his oath of office, which is likely to be on August 30.

Speaking at a press conference on August 25, Akhtar said he would ask the chief minister of Sindh Province to "give me an office" in prison. He said he would "look after the local affairs via video link."

His lawyer, Mahfooz Yar Khan, told reporters Akhtar would run Karachi via video link for the whole five-year term of office if necessary.

Akhtar's poll victory on August 24 came a day after authorities charged Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled leader of the MQM, with treason for inciting violence.

Crowds of MQM workers attacked the ARY News television office on August 22, firing shots and smashing the premises after a speech by Hussain. The workers later clashed with police outside, leaving one person dead.

Law enforcement agencies accuse MQM of racketeering, abduction, torture, and murder in its bid to maintain power.

The party denies any link to crime.

Based on reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal and AFP