Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Party won a landslide victory in the local by-elections in Punjab – the largest and most populous province in the country gaining 15 of the 20 seats available.
The result was a blow to the ruling coalition of current Prime Minister, Shahbaz Sharif, who was the head of the opposition which ousted Khan through a no-confidence vote in April.
Before the by-elections, Punjab was a bastion of support for Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League. The current Chief Minister of Punjab, who will be replaced today by one from Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf Party members, is Hamza Shahbaz, Sharif’s son.
Analysts believe the outcome of the by-elections are to be expected as a result of the ongoing crises in the country, which started with the deteriorating economic situation, fuel price hikes and removal of subsidies and ended with the external interference in the country’s internal affairs.
Since the beginning, when a number of Khan’s allies in parliament changed their loyalties and backed the opposition, Khan appeared stable and strong. As usual, he spoke frankly about a US-led conspiracy against his government that started immediately after he refused to boycott Russia over its war in Ukraine and met with its President, Vladimir Putin.
For Khan, surrender was not on the agenda. This was very clear in the battle he led prior to his ouster. When the opposition – backed by the army – became a majority, it decided to remove him from power. In a pre-emptive measure, Khan dissolved parliament and called for snap elections, but the Constitutional Court ruled parliament could hold sessions and it went onto oust him in a no-confidence vote.
Since the country’s independence in 1947, none of its prime ministers has completed a five-year term in office. “I will strive until the end,” Khan said following the ouster of his government.
Pakistani political analyst Hozaifa Farid said that surrender for Khan is not easy for a number of reasons, not least his popularity as a cricket hero, the most popular game in the country. He added that the rise in the popularity of the Tehreek-e-Insaf Party, which has appeared as resistant to external interference, is also a factor.
Recent price hikes, the removal of subsidies on basic commodities and the rising inflation and unemployment rates have all benefited Khan’s party, Farid explained..
After the publication of the “threatening letter”sent by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu to Khan through Pakistani Ambassador to America Asad Majeed, warning that Pakistan would suffer “serious consequences” should Khan remain in office, Khan became a national hero.
He was seen by Pakistanis as a protector of national independence and a hero who aims to end external dominance over the country.
Ahmed Hafez, another Pakistani political analyst, said Khan’s party lost its majority in parliament following the movement of several former allies to the opposition camp after the government reactivated mechanisms of fighting corruption in politics and jailed several politicians.
However, this increased voters’ support for Khan, he was seen as courageous enough to open “dangerous” files and send corrupt politicians, backed by the army, to prison, Hafez explained.
Hafez said that the hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis, who took part in arbitrary demonstrations following Khan’s ouster, showed that the country is back to supporting him.. “There was no leadership for the demonstrations,” he said. “This means that the demonstrators recognised by themselves who Imran Khan is and what he means for the country.”
After the results of the Punjab by-election, Khan reiterated his position that snap elections should be held in order to let the people choose their representatives. “We won as people came out to cast their votes like never before,” Khan said following the victory.
“The only way forward from here is to hold fair and free elections under a credible ECP (the Election Commission of Pakistan). Any other path will only lead to greater political uncertainty and further economic chaos,” he stressed.
Khan did not hide his fears that there could be attempts to keep him away from the premiership and spoke of attempts to help others standing against his party. “I am disappointed in the chief election commissioner,” he said. “How could he let all this happen? He is not competent to run the ECP and is bias towards a political party.”
Pakistan’s next general elections are due to take place in October 2023, but Khan called for earlier elections in order to stop the economic deterioration. If free and fair elections are held, we cannot rule out the possibility that Khan may be elected once again, but will this leave him once again fighting to become the first prime minister of Pakistan to complete a full five-year term?
Disclaimer: Pakistan's by-elections give Imran Khan hope of returning to power by Motasem A Dalloul - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view