Imran Khan wins majority of seats in Pakistan’s by-elections
- Former prime minister contested seven of eight seats and has won six, according to data from the Election Commission of Pakistan
- Sweeping victory shows popular support for the ex-cricket star’s political narrative in the nation of more than 220 million
Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan won the majority of seats in by-elections on Sunday, building momentum in his campaign to pressure the six-month-old government into calling an early national vote.
Khan contested seven of eight seats and has won six, according to data from the Election Commission of Pakistan. The Pakistan Peoples Party, a member of the ruling coalition, took the other two seats.
While the former leader will have to resign from all but one of the seats he won – and elections will happen again – the sweeping victory shows popular support for his political narrative in the nation of more than 220 million. The former cricket star, who was ousted from power through a no-confidence vote in April, has been holding massive rallies across Pakistan to push for early elections.
“I ask the government and the establishment to respect the will of the masses and immediately announce fresh elections in the country,” Fawad Chaudhry, a senior leader of Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, said in a tweet. “We are ready to discuss the election framework with the government.”
The political drama comes as Shehbaz Sharif’s government grapples with economic distress. Moody’s downgraded the nation’s credit rating and Pakistan’s foreign exchange reserves have dipped to the lowest levels in three years. Devastating floods earlier this year have also added to the crisis.
However, it’s unlikely that Khan’s win will push Sharif’s administration, that has earlier categorically rejected the idea of an early general election, to reconsider. The markets didn’t react much to the results and the rupee opened little changed.
“While Khan has been able to galvanise popular support, I am not sure if that will be sufficient for the government to give in to his call for early elections”, said Eng Tat Low, an emerging-market sovereign analyst at Columbia Threadneedle in Singapore. “Unless we see a widespread social unrest which triggers an early election being called, markets will look past political noise”.
Sunday’s vote came after all 131 lawmakers from Khan’s party resigned from parliament’s lower house in April following the change in government. Elections for those seats are being held in phases. While a sweeping win will embolden Khan and his supporters, his current spate of legal woes may put a brake on his political ambitions.
The Election Commission has said Khan’s party received illegal foreign funds from the US, Australia and the United Arab Emirates. The PTI party has denied the charge and is appealing the order.
Any decision on what punishment the party faces if it loses its appeal rests with the Supreme Court. It could face a ban on contesting elections.
Pakistan’s top investigative agency has also filed a complaint against Khan for receiving funds illegally in his party’s accounts from the now-defunct Dubai-based Abraaj Group founder Arif Naqvi, the Dawn newspaper has reported. Khan has had to get pre-emptive bail in two of the cases.
A criminal conviction could see Khan being barred from running for office for five years, according to Pakistani law.