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Pakistan’s opposition leader jailed for 10 days ahead of by-election

Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif was arrested by Pakistan’s National Accountability Bureau (NAB) on Friday ahead of by-elections in the country. 

The NAB asserts that as chief minister of Punjab from 2013-2018, he unduly influenced authorities into awarding “contracts for a government-run housing program for low-income citizens to a company with which he had political affiliations” in 2014. Pakistani authorities said that they will hold him in custody for 10 days making it impossible for him to campaign alongside his party in a crucial by-elections that may threaten the ruling party’s slim majority.

The by-elections for 11 parliamentary seats and 19 provincial assembly seats. Sharif’s party (PML-N) had come second in the general election leading their party to denounce “the polls as rigged” and allege “the military and courts tipped the scale in favour of Khan’s party”. The government and military deny these allegations and it’s unclear as to what extent this will affect parliament as many of the constituency seats are within the ruling party’s (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, PTI) stronghold.

Similar corruption charges have been brought against Sharif’s brother, ex-premier Nawaz Sharif who was arrested 10 days before the July 25 general election. Nawaz was similarly arrested on charges of “corruption relating to a low-cost housing scheme in Punjab province”. He was released from prison last month pending an appeal. The Sharif families maintains that these allegations are false and that they are being unfairly targeted.

The upcoming by-elections may prove a pivotal moment as the PML-N looks to win back control of Punjab.

See more from Reuters here.