LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — Prominent Pakistani politician Imran Khan is expected to make a full recovery despite fracturing three vertebrae and a rib in a dramatic fall at a political rally, his doctor said Wednesday.
Khan, a former cricket legend whose party is a leading contender in this week’s national elections, toppled about 5 meters (15 feet) off a forklift Tuesday that was raising him and three guards to a stage at a rally in the eastern city of Lahore. The dramatic footage was broadcast repeatedly on local TV.
The 60-year-old Khan fractured a vertebra in his neck and two in his back in the fall, said his doctor, Faisal Sultan. He also cracked a rib and cut his head, but Sultan refuted earlier reports that Khan fractured his skull.
“The most important thing out of all this is the spinal canal is intact and Mr. Imran Khan is in full control of all his limbs and his body functions,” Sultan said at a news conference in Lahore. “We are very confident that all these fractures will heal with time and will heal completely and allow him to be fully, completely functional and fit as he always is.”
Khan will be kept on bed rest in the hospital for at least a few more days so doctors can conduct further examinations, Sultan said. Two of the guards who fell with Khan have been treated for their injuries and discharged. A third guard remains hospitalized and is scheduled to have surgery on his leg, Sultan said.
Khan’s injuries will largely knock him out of the last few days of campaigning before the elections are held on May 11. It’s unclear whether he will try to address any political rallies by phone or video.
It’s possible that Khan could benefit from the accident if Pakistanis choose to vote for him out of sympathy.
Hours after the fall, the charismatic politician gave an interview from his hospital bed. He was visibly shaken and had a cut on his forehead, but he was still asking people to vote for his party.
“I have done whatever I could do,” Khan said. “Now you have to decide whether you want to make a new Pakistan.”
One of Khan’s main competitors, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, suspended his campaign for a day on Wednesday out of respect for his opponent.
The fall put a damper on what has been one of Pakistan’s most dynamic election campaigns. Khan earned legendary status in the country when he led the underdog national team to a 1992 cricket World Cup victory, and had injected new energy into a political system long dominated by dynasties.
He entered politics in the late 1990s but it wasn’t until 2011 that his party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, gained a widespread national following. Now his party is considered one of the three main challengers in the upcoming election.
Many analysts consider former Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party to be the front runner in the election, but Khan has emerged as a wildcard. His party has dented the two-party system long dominated by the Pakistan Muslim League-N and the outgoing Pakistan People’s Party and could steal votes from both.
Much of Khan’s support has come from young, middle-class Pakistanis in the country’s major cities, a potentially influential group. Almost half of Pakistan’s more than 80 million registered voters are under the age of 35.
According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 60 percent of respondents viewed Khan favorably. However, that figure dropped slightly from a year ago, and now Khan is slightly outranked by Sharif. The Pew survey, which polled 1,201 people, was conducted in March and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.3 percent.
Khan had been setting a furious pace of rallies and election events across the country to drum up support for his campaign. Few expect him to be the next prime minster, but his party could play a role as a kingmaker or form a solid opposition in parliament.
The election will mark a historic transfer of power from one democratically elected government fulfilling its full term to another, something that has never happened in Pakistan’s coup-checkered history.
But the vote has been marred by near-daily violence against candidates and party workers.
A bomb exploded outside the office of a candidate for the Awami National Party in the northwest Bajur tribal area Wednesday. The candidate was safe, but two other people were killed and three wounded, said local government official Abdul Haseeb Khan.
No one has claimed responsibility, but the Awami National Party has been repeatedly targeted by the Taliban because of their support for military operations against the militants.
Earlier Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives outside a police station in the city of Bannu in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, killing a policeman and two women, said police officer Rafiq Khan.
Also Wednesday, police raided a home in the northwestern city of Peshawar on a tip that suspected militants were hiding there, ensuing a gunbattle during which two police officers were killed, a senior police officer Liaquat Ali Khan said. He said one of the militants blew himself up inside the house to avoid arrest while officers later arrested his associate.
Abbot reported from Islamabad. AP writers Ijaz Mohammad in Bannu, Pakistan, Hussain Afzal in Parachinar, Pakistan, Anwarullah Khan in Khar, Pakistan, and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.