ISLAMABAD: Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan is out to contest election on nine National Assembly (NA) seats next month, which were vacated after the incumbent Speaker of the House had accepted resignations of 11 lawmakers of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI).
Raja Pervez Ashraf, the NA Speaker and former Prime Minister, had accepted resignations of 11 PTI parliamentarians at the Centre, nine elected on general seats and two on reserved seats for women, following PTI’s landslide victory in Punjab bypolls.
PTI’s win had shaken the foundation of PM Shehbaz Sharif’s coalition government that was formed just on a three-vote margin after Khan’s ouster from office through a no-confidence vote in April this year. Khan dubbed the entire process a “foreign conspiracy” against his government. Eventually, he had boycotted proceedings of the no-trust move against his rule in Parliament, resigned en bloc from the House and demanded early elections.
Following the victory of anti-PTI forces at the Centre, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and its coalition partners had made a similar move against PTI’s government in Punjab after winning over a number of PTI turncoats to their side to support PML-N’s Hamza Shehbaz, the PM’s son, for the post of the CM. Later, the election commission had rejected votes of dissident PTI members, and, subsequently, called for byelections on seats of disgruntled lawmakers.
Against all odds and predictions, Khan’s PTI won 15 out of 20 seats, regaining Punjab’s control from the PML-N.
The PML-N’s historic defeat in Punjab, considered to be the party’s political heartland, had prompted the NA Speaker to accept resignations of 11 PTI lawmakers out of 131, the total number of PTI members who had resigned from the NA following Khan’s removal from office.
The election commission had announced by-elections on the nine NA general seats to be held on September 25. By-elections have been generally considered as a dull practice in Pakistan, but Khan’s challenge to his political rivals on all seats has made it a big contest.
“Imran Khan and awaam (general public) versus all (alliance of more than 12 parties, including PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party),” the PTI’s official account had posted on Twitter after Khan’s announcement.
Pakistan’s election laws permit candidates to contest on multiple seats. In 2018, Khan had won all five seats from which he had contested elections.
Observers see it as a smart move by Khan to further boost and prove his popularity among the general public, but his critics describe it as a waste of state resources given that the winning candidate on multiple seats is only permitted to retain one.
“The PTI’s landslide victory in Punjab bypolls had dealt a serious blow to the beleaguered PML-N-led coalition government at the Centre but Khan’s apparent success on several seats in the upcoming by-elections will render the incumbent rulers completely toothless,” said Aurangzeb Khan, an Islamabad-based observer.