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Former Pakistani Prime Minister Khan faces a test of popularity in the province’s by-election

#Pakistani #Prime #Minister #Khan #faces #test #popularity #provinces #byelection

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan faces a popularity test in a by-election for 20 parliamentary seats in the country’s most populous province this weekend.

Sunday’s vote in Punjab is being seen as a possible guiding star for national elections, which must be held by October next year, although Khan has campaigned across the country for an earlier election since he was dismissed by a no-confidence vote in April.

Twenty seats in Punjab became vacant after the electoral commission disqualified members of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, at his request, when they switched allegiances.

The machinations led to a change of government in the province, which is now led by Hamza Sharif, the son of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

Analysts say the election gives Khan a chance to gauge how well his campaign is doing to garner popular support.

“If he wins, he will say, ‘The people are on my side’ and put pressure on new elections,” political commentator Hasan Askari told AFP.

If he loses, “Khan will definitely call it a rigged election,” he added.

Khan has drawn thousands to rallies across the country since his ousting and delivered lengthy speeches in which he claimed the government was imposed on Pakistan by a US-led conspiracy.

He also blames the current government for rising inflation, although most analysts agree that Sharif has inherited the country’s economic woes – alleviated somewhat this week by an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to resume a bailout.

Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N party needs to win at least half of the 20 seats up for grabs in Punjab or it is likely to cede control of the assembly to the PTI and its allies.

“There’s a lot at stake on both sides,” Askari said.

“The future political direction in Pakistan will remain uncertain even after the election.”

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