SRINAGAR: Struggling to survive a pulverising economic crisis, Imran Khan has added yet another serious tension to Pakistan’s pro-US government by reclaiming Punjab, the country’s most populous and powerful province. Of the 20 assembly seats that polled in a by-election, Khan’s PTI took 15 as the 13-party ruling all managed four and one went to an independent.

These berths fell vacant after the 20 lawmakers deserted PTI and voted for Shehabz Sharife’s son to become the Chief Minister of Punjab, days after Khan was ousted as Prime Minister of Pakistan. They were disqualified from the assembly member and byelections were announced.

The impressive victory in the by-polls will now pave way for Khan’s PTI to return to power in Pakistan’s most crucial province. Punjab assembly has 371 seats (with 297 general seats, 66 reserved for women and eight reserved for non-Muslims.) Now PTI strength in the house has reached 188, a number which is more than 186 berths the party had when defections took place. The ruling coalition has 179 berths.

PTI’s Punjab return could dictate an early genre election, otherwise due for October 2023.

“Imran Khan was able to secure this victory for his party without the help of the military; without businessmen, who previously funded his electoral campaigns, and without having any major electable candidates [who have dependable vote banks] in his camp,” political analyst Benazir Shah told BBC. “While the PTI’s popularity is on an upward slope, a true referendum on where the PML-N stands in Punjab will only be possible in general polls.”

The PTI return coincides with a serious crisis that Pakistan faces economically. The IMF is offering the country a US $ 7.2 billion bailout package on deeply hurting terms including serious hikes in prices of petroleum products and electricity tariffs among others.


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