Imran Khan stuns rivals in by-election upset

Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Imran Khan, has renewed his call for early elections after a stunning by-election upset saw his party take control of a crucial provincial assembly.

His PTI party won 15 of 20 seats up for grabs in Punjab, beating their arch-rivals, the PML-N, on their home ground.

The result was a foretaste of what could happen in a general election due by October 2023 but which could be sooner.

Mr Khan was ousted as prime minister in a no-confidence vote in April.

The result in Punjab was a major blow for current Prime Minister, Shehbaz Sharif, who leads the PML-N. His already weak coalition government’s fate now hangs by a thread.

Pakistan was reeling from unprecedented inflation and energy shortages – now political instability could spiral out of control.

Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, has long been a bastion of support for the PML-N of Mr Sharif, and his older brother, three-time former Prime Minister (PM), Nawaz Sharif.

But the party won just four of the seats in Sunday’s by-elections, with one going to an independent candidate.

The by-elections were called after Members of Parliament (MPs) from the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) were disqualified for switching allegiance in a vote to elect Mr Sharif’s son, Hamza, as Punjab chief minister. His short term in office now looks set to end.

But Imran Khan has the wind in his sails. He has been attracting thousands of PTI supporters to rallies since he was ousted.

“The only way forward from here is to hold free and transparent elections,” the former cricket star tweeted on Monday. “Any other way will only lead to increased political uncertainty and further economic chaos.”

Analyst, Cyril Almeida, said since it became clear to Mr Khan he was going to lose the vote of confidence in Parliament, he has had a one point agenda: fresh elections as soon as possible.

“Now it’s within his grasp,” Mr Almeida says. “They may try and limp on…but the government is now effectively at Imran’s mercy.”

The result in Punjab suggested voters there wanted to send a message to the country’s leaders about the economic hardships they were facing.

Prices were soaring as the government tried to tackle a foreign debt crisis inherited in large part from Imran Khan’s administration before he was ousted. -BBC

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