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Pakistan PM Khan to seek vote of confidence after election setback

ISLAMABAD/KARACHI — Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will seek a vote of confidence in parliament after the government’s finance minister lost his bid for a Senate seat in an election on Wednesday, the foreign minister said.

Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and its political allies were bidding to wrest control of Pakistan’s Senate from opposition parties in indirect elections to 37 seats in the 104-member upper house of parliament.

Complete results have yet to come in, but local media reports suggest that the PTI and its allies gained ground in the Senate, possibly enough to gain a majority.

However, an election official announced that Khan’s finance minister, Abdul Hafiz Sheikh, had not succeeded in winning the seat he was contesting.

The loss represents a significant blow to Khan and the government, because the electoral college in Sheikh’s case was the lower house of parliament, which chooses the prime minister of the country and in 2018 handed a majority to Khan.

Sheik is also leading crucial talks with international lender the IMF aimed at stabilizing the economy. He can continue as finance minister, however, meaning the political damage is largely symbolic at this stage.

“Imran Khan and his party has reached a consensus decision that Imran Khan will take a vote of confidence from the parliament,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a news conference.

Information Minister Shibli Faraz told Geo News that the move was to show Khan’s political opponents that he still had the confidence of parliament and it was the “sign of a brave man.”

The Senate contest was designed as a gauge of confidence in Khan’s administration, Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, head of the independent research organization PILDAT, told Reuters.

Pakistani financial advisory house Topline Securities said in an advisory note immediately after the result of Sheikh’s seat was announced that the loss was likely to increase pressure on the ruling party.

Opposition parties, which have united behind a mass protest campaign aimed at ousting Khan, called for a dissolution of the government and fresh elections.

If Khan and his allies do gain a majority in the Senate when final results are in, it could help him pass key legislation that has stalled in the chamber and slowed progress in talks with the IMF. (Reporting by Gibran Peshimam and Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi; Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield and Umar Farooq in Islamabad; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

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