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Pakistani PM to Seek Vote of Confidence from Parliament after Senate Poll Blow

Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan looks on during a Trade and Investments conference in Colombo on Feb. 24, 2021, on the second day of Khan's official visit to Sri Lanka.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan will seek a vote of parliamentary confidence after one of his key candidates suffered a surprise defeat in Wednesday’s hotly contested Senate elections, his ruling party announced.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) won the 2018 general elections and formed a coalition government with the support of smaller parliamentary groups. But it did not have a majority in the Senate, or the upper house of parliament, needed to pass key pieces of legislation dealing with reforms.

Khan’s party emerged as the majority party in the 100-member Senate in the indirect elections for 37 seats that were up for grabs Wednesday.

But Federal Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh lost the contest for a high-profile seat from Islamabad to Yousuf Raza Gilani, a former prime minister, who was backed by an alliance of 11 opposition parties.

Gilani's victory, analysts said, could be an outcome of internal rifts that prompted some PTI lawmakers to withhold votes for Shaikh.

The opposition candidate secured 169 votes to win the contest, while Shaikh received 164.

Pakistan’s lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, along with four provincial assemblies collectively constitute the electoral college for the Senate elections, which are held every three years on half the chamber’s seats.

The rest of the candidates were elected unopposed to the upper house ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

Shaikh’s defeat was seen as a major setback to the PTI at a time when the opposition alliance, known as the Pakistani Democratic Movement (PDM), has been staging anti-government rallies.

The PDM plans to march on Islamabad later this month to pressure Khan to step down, two years before he finishes his mandated five-year term, for allegedly being unable to fix Pakistan’s economic challenges, among other issues.

The outcome of the Senate poll prompted opposition leaders to demand Khan show that he still enjoys a parliamentary majority.

“Imran Khan has decided to take a fresh vote of confidence from the National Assembly,” Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi told a late-night news conference.

Both the government and opposition in the lead-up to the elections accused each other of seeking votes through corrupt practices, including financial bribes.