Lahore: Pakistan’s ousted prime minister Imran Khan will contest all 33 National Assembly seats in the by-elections to be held March 16, his party has announced, in a move to frustrate the ruling coalition and put more pressure on it to call snap polls.
Addressing a press conference here Sunday evening, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) vice-chairman and former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the decision was taken during the party’s core committee meeting held here.
“Imran Khan will be PTI’s sole candidate on all 33 parliamentary seats. The decision was taken in the party’s core committee meeting which was presided over by Khan at Zaman Park Lahore Sunday,” Qureshi said Sunday.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) announced Friday that by-polls to 33 seats of the National Assembly will be held March 16.
According to PTI, the party leaders who were de-seated from these constituencies will submit their nomination papers as covering candidates for Khan. The seats fell vacant after National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf accepted the resignations of PTI lawmakers.
Khan’s party had quit the National Assembly, the lower house of Pakistan Parliament, en masse following his ouster from power in April last year in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence.
However, Speaker Ashraf did not accept the resignations and said he needed to individually verify if the lawmakers were resigning of their own accord.
Last month, the speaker accepted the resignations of 35 PTI lawmakers, after which the ECP de-notified them.
Subsequently, the speaker also accepted another 35 (and ECP de-notified them), and the remaining 43 resignations of PTI lawmakers after Khan announced returning to the National Assembly to put Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to the test of a vote of confidence.
The ECP has yet to de-notify 43 PTI lawmakers. If the ECP de-notifies the remaining 43 PTI lawmakers, Khan’s party would be virtually wiped out of the National Assembly.
This is not the first time Khan has decided to contest polls on multiple seats against the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM). In previous by-elections held in October 2022, the PTI chairman contested from eight constituencies and emerged victorious in six.
The ruling coalition of nine parties PDM has said it might not take part in the by-polls. If the PDM sticks to its decision, the PTI may grab all seats without any problem.
Of the 33 seats, 12 will be up for grabs in Punjab province, eight in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, three in Islamabad, nine in Sindh, and one in Balochistan.
“The PTI will remain on the political ground and seek the help of the masses. When the people got a chance in July last year, despite our opponents being in government, they ensured our mandate and [made] Imran Khan victorious,” Qureshi said.
“The nation will give a clear message March 16: the nation completely trusts in the leadership of Imran Khan and it stands with the PTI. The people will also voice their reservations against the group that’s been imposed on us,” he was quoted as saying by Geo News.
Earlier this month, Khan’s PTI also dissolved the provincial assemblies in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces where his party was in power, to push the Shehbaz Sharif government to call for snap polls.
The PTI has already moved the court against the caretaker chief minister governor for not giving the election date in Punjab. After the dissolution of an assembly, the caretaker setup has to hold polls within 90 days under the constitution.
Qureshi has said he would move the high court in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa against the governor and caretaker chief minister for not giving an election date in the province.
The tenure of the current National Assembly will end in August this year. The government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has refused to hold snap elections.
“The Constitution does not permit for an hour’s delay and we won’t stand it. The elections should be ensured within 90 days in line with the Constitution,” he said.
The former foreign minister said that the ruling coalition was “afraid” of holding elections in both provinces. “Political engineering is being done through the National Assembly by-elections,” he said.
The embattled government is under severe criticism as inflation is at a record high and there seems no respite in sight, with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme also at a stall.