Leverage

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The party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan secured a major win in Pakistan’s most populous province Monday, a victory that would allow him to push for snap parliamentary elections just months after being ousted from office, the Financial Times reported.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf – or the Pakistan Justice party – won 15 of the 20 seats in the Punjab local elections, amid voter fury over spiraling living costs.

Punjab is home to nearly 60 percent of the country’s population of more than 220 million. It has long been considered a stronghold of current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his brother Nawaz Sharif – also a former prime minister.

The PTI’s victory comes less than four months after Khan lost a no-confidence vote in what he has alleged was a foreign-orchestrated coup. On Monday, he and his allies renewed demands for Sharif to step down and called for early elections ahead of the scheduled vote next year.

Analysts said the election result stems from Sharif’s decision to introduce a series of belt-tightening measures required under a proposed $7 billion International Monetary Fund program.

As part of the deal, Pakistan has removed fuel subsidies causing a spike in prices. Inflation rose to 21.3 percent last month, the highest in nearly 13 years. The central bank’s US dollar reserves have fallen sharply, too.

Government officials have blamed the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the high costs. Meanwhile, economists worry that the situation in Pakistan could resemble the crisis in Sri Lanka, with the former possibly defaulting on its foreign loan repayments.

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