Protests have been held in major cities across Pakistan to denounce what they called a “theft” of the mandate of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party in the Punjab provincial assembly.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party on Friday lost a key vote in the local assembly in Pakistan’s most populous Punjab province, despite winning a by-election there earlier this week.
The vote was held to determine whether the province’s sitting chief minister – Hamza Sharbaz Sharif, the son of the country’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif – enjoyed the backing of the majority of legislators in the local parliament.
Sharif retained his post in another blow to Khan, whose PTI party and its allies had hoped to form a new provincial government in Punjab.
“They have stolen the mandate of Imran Khan. They have betrayed the nation. People won’t tolerate this. We have tolerated this for too long,” protester Shazia Imran told the Associated Press in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi.
Twenty seats were up for grabs in the Punjab by-election, which was seen as a popularity test for the former international cricket star dismissed by a no-confidence vote in April.
The bloc won 15 of the seats in the 371-member provincial assembly, with Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) taking four, and one going to an independent.
In Friday’s vote, Khan’s candidate for chief minister, Parvez Elahi, initially won 186 votes but the provincial assembly’s deputy speaker, Dost Muhammad Mazari, invalidated 10 of those votes over violations of voting regulations.
Under Pakistani law, votes are disqualified if legislators vote contrary to their party’s instructions.
In a statement broadcast on national television, Mazari announced that 10 legislators from the Pakistan Muslim League headed by Shujaat Hussain, a Khan ally, had voted contrary to demands from their leader, Hussain, who had allegedly asked they abstain from voting.
In the end, Hamza Shahbaz Sharif won 179 votes on Friday, retaining his post. Khan claimed his opponents had resorted to political machinations and called on his countrymen to rally against Mazari’s ruling.
Khan has claimed the no-confidence vote that removed him was a United States conspiracy – a charge that both his successor and Washington deny.
He wants the new prime minister, Sharif, to call early parliamentary elections to determine which one of them is more popular in Pakistan.
Sharif has refused to accept the challenge, saying the next elections will be held on time, in 2023.