In a major blow to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N)-led government in the Punjab province, the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of former prime minister Imran Khan clinched an overwhelming majority in the by-elections for 20 provincial assembly seats yesterday.
The seats were vacated after 20 legislators from the PTI switched loyalties to join the PML-N to enable the latter to form a government last April in Punjab — considered the power matrix.
The Election Commission of Pakistan then de-seated them in May as required under the law after party chairman Imran Khan moved against them for violating the party discipline.
In what was billed as the “clash of the titans” with future political fortunes hinging on the results, the PTI managed a strong comeback against all odds. 
According to unofficial results, Khan’s party grabbed 15 seats with the PML-N winning just 4 and one seat going to an independent candidate.
The PTI is now poised to form a government in the Punjab province along with its allies, whose candidate Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, is their joint nominee for the post. 
Imran Khan, who was himself ousted as PM in a controversial no-confidence vote last April, ran a strenuous electoral campaign which was marred with allegations of foul play. 
He was quick to thank his party workers and allies for “defeating not only the PML-N but the entire state machinery”. 
“I want to first thank our PTI workers & voters of Punjab for defeating not just PMLN candidates but the entire state machinery, esp harassment by police, & a totally biased ECP. Thank you to all our Allies, PMLQ, MWM & Sunni Ittehad Council,” Khan tweeted.
He also renewed his demand for fair and free elections in the wake of his party’s success. “Any other path will only lead to greater political uncertainty & further economic chaos,” he warned in a tweet. Earlier, PTI’s Multan candidate, Zain Qureshi, son of former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was the first to win a seat, said many voters came out to send the “imported government” back home.
The reference was to the federal government at the Centre, which the PTI alleges was “foisted upon the nation” following an alleged “regime change”, the party accuses the United States of orchestrating with the help of “local actors”.
“PTI voters had a 45-50% turnout,” Zain said, adding the government did everything to rig the elections. “I have submitted pictorial evidence with the Election Commission of Pakistan,” he disclosed.  
PTI leader and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry urged all political parties to sit together and address the widening trust gap. “We should not stay in a state of war always,” he said. “The best solution is fresh elections.”
Fawad maintained that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should announce a date for general elections.
Former planning minister and senior PTI leader Asad Umar also highlighted PTI’s struggle for the last three months after the “regime change”. 
“This struggle is for Pakistan now. A man (can) only put in an effort. Allah guides us to success,” he said.
He maintained that the by-election proved that the “decisions of the country must be taken here and not abroad in closed rooms”. He disclosed that the PTI core committee’s meeting is scheduled to take place at 3pm later today to plan a strategy for the future.
PTI leader Omar Ayub Khan said that PTI’s “landslide victory” in Punjab by-polls have proved that Imran Khan’s narrative had been wholeheartedly accepted by the people.
Meanwhile, the ruling PML-N conceded defeat with some party leaders even congratulating the PTI.
PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz, daughter of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, who led the electoral campaign for her party, opined that it should graciously accept defeat in the Punjab by-elections and submit to the will of the people. “Wherever there are weaknesses, efforts should be made to identify and overcome them,” she tweeted.
Malik Ahmed Khan, Sharif’s spokesperson, also “wholeheartedly” acknowledged PTI’s “historic” victory in the by-elections. Speaking to the private Geo News, Khan said the PML-N acknowledged it had lost the Punjab by-elections. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif also congratulated the PTI and called for the results to be accepted whilst crediting the Punjab government for “carrying out transparent elections”.
“People always make the right decision. Accepting public opinion is democracy,” Pervaiz Rashid, another party stalwart, conceded.
Journalist Khurram Husain said the results showed that Imran Khan had “arrived” as a “genuinely popular leader in Pakistan with grass root support”.