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Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), gestures while addressing his supporters during a campaign meeting ahead of general elections in Karachi, Pakistan, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro

(reuters_tickers)

By Asif Shahzad

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - The Pakistani opposition party led by former cricket star Imran Khan appears to be gaining ground ahead of a July 25 general election, with one new poll showing it pulling ahead of the outgoing ruling party and another showing it only slightly behind.

A survey by Pulse Consultant showed Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI, or Pakistan Justice Movement) ahead with 30 percent of the respondents nationwide, compared to 27 percent for its main rival, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was at 17 percent.

A separate nationwide poll by Gallup Pakistan had PML-N on top with 26 percent, PTI with 25 percent and the PPP at 16 percent.

Both polls were commissioned by Pakistan's Jang Media Group and were published on Wednesday in its affiliated newspaper, The News. They each surveyed about 3,000 people, with a margin of error of 1.6 percent for the Pulse survey and 2-3 percent for Gallup.

The new polls indicate a swing towards Khan's party compared to similar nationwide polls in 2017, which put the PML-N 8-9 percentage points ahead of PTI.

The Gallup poll showed most of the PML-N's losses were to voters who responded "undecided" in the most recent poll, conducted between May 1 and June 6, while the Pulse poll indicated that most of PML-N's losses went directly to PTI.

Khan's political fortunes have improved since PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif was removed as prime minister by the Supreme Court last year over undeclared assets.

Sharif, who was disqualified from politics for life, now faces a verdict in an anti-corruption court on Friday along with his daughter Maryam, who is running for parliament. The case, which involves the purchase of luxury apartments in London, could see Sharif jailed and Maryam disqualified.

Sharif's has accused the military and courts conspiring to oust him and using legal cases and intimidation to help Khan's PTI party, accusations denied by Khan, the army and the judiciary.

Khan, a former cricket captain of Pakistan, has portrayed the legal cases as a long-overdue corruption crackdown on the PML-N, which he has labelled a graft-ridden "mafia".

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad)

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Reuters