Imran Khan dominates vote in Punjab, deepening unrest in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan. Less than four months after Prime Minister Imran Khan was ousted from power in Pakistan, his party won a landslide election victory in Pakistan’s most populous province, proving that Mr. Khan remains a powerful force and exacerbates the political uncertainty that has gripped the country since his defeat.

mr. Khan Political Party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, On Sunday, he won 15 of 20 seats in Punjab, a province that has often served as the leader of national politics.

The province is home to more than half of Pakistan’s 200 million people and has for many years been the political stronghold of the family of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who took office in April after Mr. Hubbard took over. Khan was expelled in a vote of no confidence it shook Pakistan’s fragile democracy.

Sunday’s election was seen as a litmus test for Mr. Sharif’s government, a multi-party coalition that has struggled to garner popular support amid a collapsing economy and compete with Mr. Trump’s political momentum. Khan’s party, known as the PTI, won the election campaign after he was ousted.

“PTI demonstrated that it mobilized real support after the vote of no confidence in Khan, while the ruling coalition lost support,” said Madiha Afzal, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “The ruling coalition will have to fundamentally rethink its strategy and approach, as well as show good economic performance, to have a chance in the next general election.”

In a series of rallies that have brought together tens of thousands in recent weeks, Mr. Khan accused the United States and the country’s powerful military establishment of plotting to overthrow his government. US officials, Mr. Sharif and the military denied the allegations.

But Mr. Khan’s message resonated with people across the country, and the election results were widely seen as a rejection of the powerful military establishment and a response to deteriorating economic conditions that have put pressure on low- and middle-income families.

On Monday, Mr. Khan again called on the government to hold general elections before 2023, when they are currently scheduled. “The only way forward is to hold fair and free elections,” he said. said on Twitter. “Any other path will only lead to greater political uncertainty and further economic chaos.”

Since taking office, Mr. Shehbaz’s government has had to balance the drastic measures needed to restore the economy and the need for his party to maintain popular support ahead of the next general election.

In the face of inflation, which reached his highest level in 14 years, mr. Sharif had to raise electricity rates, raise fuel prices and end government subsidies to revive $6 electricity. billion dollar rescue program from the International Monetary Fund. rescue program was announced in 2019 and later suspended after Mr. Khan’s government defaulted on some of the terms of the loan, such as cutting energy subsidies.

Last week the IMF and the government of Pakistan announced an agreement at the staff level this paves the way for a $1.17 billion payment to help stave off a possible default.

But highly unpopular economic measures to avoid default provoked a public backlash against the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and proved to be a key factor in Mr. Khan’s election success in Punjab, analysts say.

“It’s not all Mr. Sharif’s fault,” Nusrat Javid, a seasoned journalist and political analyst based in Islamabad, said in an interview. “His government is facing the burden accumulated by all previous governments.”

But for most voters, Mr. Javid said what matters is that since April, “the long blackout hours have returned, gasoline has become unaffordable, and electricity prices are constantly rising.”

Since his dismissal, Mr. Khan has capitalized on this dissatisfaction by launching a new campaign. In recent weeks, he has frequented TV talk shows and waged a relentless social media campaign through Twitter, Facebook Live, YouTube and Instagram Live.

mr. Khan also accused the Office of Inter-Services Intelligence of interfering in the electoral process. During campaign speeches over the past few weeks, Mr. Khan has often stated that “Mr. X, the code name he came up with for the provincial intelligence chief, tried to rig the election.

On Twitter, PTI supporters have unleashed unprecedented criticism and ridicule on Army Chief General F. Qamar Javed Bajwa, who was once thought to be a supporter of the Khan. General Bajwa appeared to have withdrawn his support for Mr Khan last year after the two disagreed for military appointments. Angry PTI supporters inside and outside Pakistan accused General Bajwa of agreeing to the change of government in April.

The anti-war rhetoric is a clear shift for Mr. Khan, who has climbed the political ladder with the backing of the country’s powerful military. His victory in the 2018 election was attributed by many of his rivals to a backroom deal struck with the military establishment.

“His anti-establishment stance in particular is remarkable,” Ms. Afzal, the guy from Brookings. “This represents the departure of Khan, as well as his constituents.”

Government officials said Mr. Khan’s victory on Sunday disproved his accusations of electoral fraud and military interference in the current political cycle.

“This is the first election in history where even the bitterest political opponents cannot point to transparency,” said Marrium County Information Minister Aurangzeb.

However, Sunday’s election defeat added pressure to the ruling coalition, which has struggled to find its footing since coming to power in a precarious position.

The coalition clashed frequently before toppling Mr. Khan and struggled to remain cohesive.

There is a growing perception in the country that G. Sharif, according to analysts, cannot win the support of the population, and he lacks the charisma of his older brother Nawaz Sharif, who was prime minister three times. The younger Sharif is known for his administrative skills, while his brother was known for drawing large crowds into the street and into the voting booth.

And the government, which was elected by parliament after Mr. Khan’s resignation has no electoral mandate and is facing mounting pressure to hold new general elections in the coming months.

mr. Sharif’s party “remained in a Catch-22 situation,” said Abdul Basit, a research fellow at the Al-Farabi School of International Studies. S. Rajaratnam in Singapore. “If he clings to power in the center,” he said, “Shahbaz Sharif will become a lame duck prime minister, and early elections will be political suicide.”