ISLAMABAD: Pakistan may be heading for early national polls, political analysts said on Monday, after the opposition party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan swept a crucial by-election in the country’s most populous province of Punjab.
Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, or PTI, have been demanding new elections since he was dismissed with a no-confidence vote in April. The premier’s tenure was marked by a deteriorating economy, defections by his party’s lawmakers and abandonment by his coalition partners.
Sunday’s vote for the 20 seats in Punjab was seen as a popularity test for the ousted leader and a bellwether for the national election that must be held next year.
Khan’s PTI party won 15 seats, while current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N, or PML-N, took four, with one going to an independent, according to official results issued by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
“The only way forward from here is to hold fair and free elections under a credible ECP,” Khan said on Twitter late on Sunday.
“Any other path will only lead to greater political uncertainty and further economic chaos.”
Khan is likely to “increase pressure” on the federal government to hold early polls “to keep his political capital intact,” Dr. Rasul Bakhsh Rais, political science professor at LUMS university in Lahore, told Arab News on Monday.
Under Pakistan’s constitution, the prime minister can call early national elections without waiting until 2023.
“The ruling coalition should call (for) fresh elections as early as possible to avoid further political and economic instability in the country,” Rais said.
Adnan Rehmat, a Punjab-based political analyst, told Arab News that fresh elections were now “inevitable.”
“The Punjab by-polls have proven (to be) a referendum against the ruling coalition, and all political parties should now sit together to mutually decide a timeframe for (the) next elections,” Rehmat said.
The country’s political situation will be clearer in the next few days once Pakistan’s political parties work out their strategies following the Punjab by-polls, political analyst and editor at The News daily Zebunissa Burki told Arab News.
Burki said Khan’s political graph was “very high,” at a time when Sharif’s party and its coalition partners were caught in a dilemma.
“The PML-N and its coalition partners are now in a situation of damn(ed) if you do and damn(ed) if you don’t,” Burki said.
“But there seems to be no other option except going for elections to seek (a) fresh mandate (from) the public.”