Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan's party clinched crucial by-elections Sunday, defeating the ruling alliance after a tough contest, unofficial results showed.
The polls took place in eight National Assembly constituencies of three provinces – three each in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where Khan’s party holds power, and two in Sindh, besides three Punjab Assembly constituencies.
Khan contested in seven of eight National Assembly seats in a bid to build momentum for his campaign to pressure the government into calling early elections, which are otherwise due in October 2023.
According to unofficial results, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) was in the lead on six national and two provincial seats.
Candidates of the ruling coalition, meanwhile, were ahead on two national and one provincial seat.
Khan, who has been on the streets following his ouster through a parliamentary no-confidence vote in April, had termed the vote "a referendum" on his popularity.
He convincingly trounced his rival, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour of nationalist Awami National Party from northwestern city of Peshawar, a PTI stronghold.
He also defeated Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Abid Sher Ali in the northeastern city of Faisalabad.
Khan, however, had to face tough contests in Charsadda and Mardan districts in Khyber Pakhtunkwa, and Nankana Sahib district of Punjab.
The only seat he lost was from the country's commercial capital Karachi, where Abdul Hakeem Baloch from the center-left Pakistan Peoples Party won after a tough contest.
Another crucial contest was seen in the city of Multan where the PPP's Ali Musa Gilani, son of former premier Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, defeated PTI's Mehar Bano Qureshi, the daughter of former Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.
All the seats were declared vacant following resignations from PTI lawmakers in protest against Khan's ouster.
The cricketer-turned politician has attracted a large number of supporters in rallies since his ouster, which he claims was result of a US-sponsored "foreign conspiracy." Islamabad and Washington, however, have time and again rebutted the allegations.
The vote came as the nation grapples with the aftermath of devasting floods that left a third of the country under water, affecting millions of people.