KARACHI/Islamabad: The success of former prime minister Imran Khan-backed independent candidates has forced two of his rivals to resign from their party posts and another to publicly give up his provincial assembly seat in an extraordinary turn of events in Pakistani politics after last week’s national election.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party was severely hamstrung ahead of the February 8 polls, with rallies banned, its party symbol taken away, and dozens of its candidates rejected from eligibility to stand.
Despite facing what it says was a state-backed crackdown, the PTI asked its candidates to contest the election as independents, who stunned observers by winning 101 parliamentary seats in an election marred by rigging allegations.
On Monday, Jahangir Tareen, once one of Khan’s closest aides who later deserted him and formed his own party to challenge the former premier, announced his resignation as chairman of the Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP), saying he respected the “will of the people of Pakistan.” The statement was widely seen as an admission that he had failed to pose a challenge to Khan’s popularity.
“I would like to thank everyone who supported me in this election and want to offer my congratulations to my opponents,” Tareen said on X. “I have immense respect for the will of the people of Pakistan. Therefore, I have decided to resign from my position as Chairman IPP and step away from politics altogether.”
Tareen’s IPP, which was formed by former Khan affiliates, could only secure two seats in parliament in Thursday’s vote.
Separately, Siraj-ul-Haq, the chief of a major religious political party, the Jamaat-e-Islami, stepped down from his post after his party failed to secure even a single seat in parliament.
“Despite hard work and efforts, [I] could not get success [to the party],” Haq said on X. “I have resigned from the leadership of Jamaat-e-Islami, while accepting the responsibility of defeat in election.”
Haq’s party derived much of its support from Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, where Khan-backed candidates swept the polls by winning 90 out of 112 provincial seats. The PTI ruled the province from 2023 to Jan. 2023.
Khan, who has been in jail since August last year after he was convicted in a case involving the illegal sale of state gifts, accuses Pakistan’s powerful military of sidelining him and his party from politics. The military denies Khan’s accusations and says it does not interfere in political matters.
His PTI and other political parties staged protests over the weekend and on Monday in various parts of the country over alleged rigging in the elections, especially over the fact that final results were not out even two days after polling closed. The party has challenged election results in several constituencies as the ECP denies rigging allegations.
In another significant development on Monday, Naeem-ur-Rehman, who heads the Karachi chapter of the JI religious party, announced he was forfeiting a Sindh provincial assembly seat after winning it in the election, alleging that a Khan-backed opposing candidate had secured more votes than him, but was denied victory due to “rigging.”
According to official results, Rehman won the PS-129 seat in the southern port city of Karachi after securing 26,926 votes, while the Muttahida Quami Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) candidate, Maaz Muqadam, secured 26,296 votes. The PTI-backed independent candidate Saif Bari polled 11,357 votes.
“The independent candidate supported by the PTI has got more votes than me,” Rehman said in a presser. “I have the grace to announce that PTI’s independent candidate has won and I will not avail this seat. I promised this nation, my party promised this nation, that we do not want even a single additional vote.”
PTI leader Khurrum Sher Zaman, the PTI’s Karachi president, said Rehman’s move endorsed his party’s stance that its “mandate has been snatched.”
Senior Karachi-based analyst and political commentator Nadia Naqi lauded Rehman, saying that by taking such a decision, he had “exposed both the Election Commission of Pakistan and the decision-makers.”
“He is an honest man and has taken the right decision,” Naqi told Arab News.
Veteran political commentator and journalist Mazhar Abbas said Rehman had set a “great example.”
“This, by Hafiz Naeem, is a principled stand, and we need such decisions to establish good traditions,” he said. “This raises serious questions about the election process, during which they allegedly went to great lengths to reduce the seats of a popular party,” Abbas noted, without elaborating who he meant by “they.”