Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan's gamble to contest as a candidate in seven by-election seats of the National Assembly (NA) paid off as he emerged victorious in six of them, as announced on Monday, 17 October.
In Pakistani politics, candidates can stand for election from multiple constituencies and decide to forfeit whichever seat(s) they want if they win more than one. However, it is quite uncommon for a politician to stand for as many seats as Khan did.
A total of 11 seats had gone to the polls, eight in the NA and three in the Punjab Provincial Assembly. Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won a total of six in the NA and two in the Punjab Assembly – taking the party's total tally to an impressive eight out of 11 seats.
As many as 101 candidates were in the fray, including 52 from Punjab, 33 from Sindh, and 16 from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The only seat which Khan lost was one in Karachi, in which he was defeated by a candidate of the Pakistan Peoples Party. The PTI lost another seat in Multan.
The by-elections had come in the backdrop of devastating floods that have impacted more than 30 million people in the country and dealt a blow to the already debilitated Pakistani economy.
'Referendum' on His Popularity: What Are the Implications of Khan's Election Win?
The former cricket star's victory indicates that while he may be down, he is certainly not out. It also reaffirms the power of populism in electoral politics; Khan himself had called the vote a "referendum" on his popularity.
The win comes as a shot in the arm for the 70-year-old politician, who has been embroiled in several legal cases since his ouster from power in April after a no-confidence motion was tabled against him.
"Winning six out of eight seats in the face of a combined opposition is not something small," Imtiaz Gul, an analyst from the Center for Research and Security Studies, was quoted as saying by AFP.
"It underlines a reality which may be bitter for the entire ruling alliance... Imran Khan's narrative is still galvanising many people across the country," he added.
Khan had held a number of rallies in the run-up to the bypolls, in which he slammed the Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif-led Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government for the same reasons they had blamed him for when he was in power – most prominently economic turmoil and failure to get a grip on rising inflation.
Big Blow To Shehbaz Sharif
Hours ahead of the election, the PTI chief had taken to social media to call the PDM a "cabal of crooks" and encourage voters to turn out in large numbers in his favour.
The elections were necessitated by the resignation of eight PTI lawmakers following the removal of Khan from power.
However, despite his humiliating ouster, Khan's popularity has not dropped as much as PM Sharif would have hoped.
The main contest in the polls was between Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Khan's PTI. The polls were an opportunity for the parties to test their popularity ahead of next year's general election.
The result in Khan's favour will definitely have the incumbent scratching his head and charting out a plan for revival ahead of the 2023 polls.
Chance of Early General Elections?
Khan's victory in six seats and his party's win in eight overall will certainly give teeth to his argument to call for early elections, before the scheduled dates in October 2023.
Now more than ever, the PTI chief will attempt to capitalise on his gains in the backdrop of the humiliation meted out to Sharif's PML(N), which suffered the greatest losses with a win in only one seat.
He has also vowed to announce the date of a "long march" of his supporters on the capital Islamabad to exert pressure on the government to hold snap elections.
However, one cannot underestimate the ability of the ruling PDM government to resist the pressure, as it still has a majority in the NA despite the recent defeat.
(With inputs from AFP and PTI.)