Islamabad, May 8: Khan’s supporters believe the serious injuries he sustained from a fall during a rally on Tuesday night could help his bid to become a major political force, despite the fact he will be hospitalised for the crucial last two days of Pakistan‘s general election campaign.
On Wednesday, doctors at the hospital where the 60-year-old was being treated said the leader of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) would have to remain in bed for several days to come after falling 4.5 metres (15 ft) from a makeshift lift and damaging his back.
His campaign was supposed to end with a final rally of supporters on Thursday, with polling then taking place on Saturday.
Khan, who sustained three fractured vertebrae and a broken rib, is now unlikely to take part and has ruled out going to vote in his home constituency of Mianwali, in north-west Punjab.
Faisal Sultan, his doctor, said the politician would recover if allowed to rest. He said: “The most important and reassuring thing is that the spinal canal is intact and Mr Khan is in full control of his limbs and body functions. There was no neurological compromise.”
Khan has benefited from a wave of public concern and sympathy from supporters and opponents alike, with other leading parties cancelling many campaign events on Wednesday.
The PTI has turned an interview recorded with Khan as he lay in a neck brace in a hospital bed just hours after the accident into a party political broadcast repeatedly aired by various TV channels.
The shaken looking Khan said it was up to voters to elect leaders “in the name of ideology” rather than on the basis of personality, adding: “I have done whatever I could do. Now you have to decide whether you want to make a new Pakistan.”
Mohammad Malick, a prominent journalist, said the images in the broadcast would more than compensate for the loss of time on the campaign trail. “This really resonates because people like the image of a fighter, of a warrior,” he said. “He took this terrible fall and he’s recovering quickly – that is a powerful image.”
Malick said it could also help boost voter turnout, which analysts believe will benefit Khan more than the frontrunner, Nawaz Sharif, the head of his faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N).
A poll published by the political magazine Herald on Wednesday showed the PTI and PML-N were virtually tied, with the latter leading by less than a percentage point among the 1,285 people surveyed.
Khan’s frenetic campaigning in recent weeks, which has seen him do as many as four rallies a day, appears to have galvanised the public and given the PTI momentum.
But because of the first-past-the-post, constituency-based system used in Pakistan, it is possible that Khan will win many more votes than seats. Most analysts anticipate a hung parliament, with the former cricketer turned politician holding the balance of power or leading the opposition.
Khan has in the past insisted he would never enter into a coalition with either the PML-N or the Pakistan Peoples party (PPP), which has been in power for five years.
“We are in totally uncharted waters,” said Malick. “He could get maybe between 40 to 50 seats, but we just don’t know.”
Governments require 172 seats to form a majority in parliament.
In an interview to a local television station, Khan revealed that his injuries could have been worse if he had not been wearing a bulletproof jacked under his shirt, which doctors believe protected his spine.
Pictures that have emerged of the incident show a man in a black T-shirt appeared to have accidentally pushed Khan, who lost his balance and fell to the ground along with at least three of his aides.