ISLAMABAD – Pakistan’s three-time former prime minister Nawaz Sharif returned home on Saturday on a chartered plane from Dubai, ending four years of self-imposed exile in London as he seeks to win voters’ support in planned parliamentary elections. for January.

He is expected to face stiff competition from the party of the former prime minister and his main rival, Imran Khan, who was ousted. in a motion of no confidence in April 2022 and is currently imprisoned after a court found him guilty and sentenced him to three years in a corruption case.

Sharif has been on the run since he failed to appear in a Pakistani court in 2019 following his conviction and 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Khan, at that time, allowed him to travel abroad for medical treatment after complaining of chest pains. Sharif then extended his stay in London, saying his doctors would not allow him to travel.

Two days ago, a Pakistani federal court granted him several days of protection in corruption cases, paving the way for his return home from self-imposed exile in London. At Islamabad airport on Saturday, legal advisers and senior members of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League, gave him a warm welcome.

He is expected to speak at a mass homecoming rally in the eastern city of Lahore later on Saturday and his return comes as Pakistan experiences deepening political turmoil and one of its worst economic crises.

In Lahore, Sharif’s supporters decorated the city with his photographs and party flags. “Today I am going to Pakistan after four years and I feel very happy with the grace of Allah,” Sharif told reporters before leaving for Islamabad from Dubai, after arriving in the UAE on Friday from Saudi Arabia after traveling there last time. week from London.

He said Pakistan’s economy and political situation had declined in recent years, according to multiple videos shared by his Pakistan Muslim League party on X, formerly known as Twitter.

But he added: “As I said before, I leave everything to God.” He said he made more than 150 court appearances after his 2017 ouster.

Thursday’s ruling by the Islamabad High Court allowing his return was a big boost for Sharif and his party, who are struggling to counter the popularity of Khan, who remains the main opposition figure.

Sharif also faces multiple legal challenges. In 2020, an Islamabad anti-corruption court issued an arrest warrant against him after he failed to return home. The same court on Thursday suspended that arrest warrant until October 24. Another federal court granted Sharif a lease until October 24, giving him protection from arrest until then.

Last month, Sharif claimed that the country’s powerful former army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, and spy chief Faiz Hameed orchestrated his overthrow in 2017. He had troubled relations with the military.

His party became hugely unpopular after Khan’s ouster, when Nawaz Sharif’s brother Shehbaz Sharif replaced Khan, a former cricketer turned politician.

Shehbaz, whose term ended in August, failed to improve the economy, although he saved Pakistan from default. A provisional government is currently in power and will hold elections in January.