By Aamir Latif
KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - Pakistan's ruling party has conceded setbacks in local elections in its stronghold province with opposition parties clinching the mayorships of major cities, including the provincial capital.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party of Prime Minister Imran Khan lost the mayorships of several major cities and towns in northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, including the provincial capital Peshawar, in the first phase of polls, according to unofficial results announced Monday by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Losing Peshawar to Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) is viewed as a major upset and a reaction to the PTI's poor handling of the economy, which has resulted in high inflation in recent years.
The JUI-F's Zubair Ali -- a relative of party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman -- secured 62,388 votes to clinch the Peshawar mayorship compared to the PTI's Rizwan Bangash, who garnered 50,669 votes, according to the election commission.
The PTI has been ruling Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders neighboring Afghanistan, for over eight years.
Over 12 million voters — seven million male and five and a half million female — were registered for the polls in the 17 districts of the province in the first phase.
Apart from mayorships, elections for 64 town chairmen were also held.
Unofficial results showed that the JUI-F is leading in 19 seats, followed by the PTI, which is in the lead in 16 constituencies.
The independents, the center-left Awami National Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party, and main opposition parties Pakistan Muslim League and Pakistan People's Party have managed to win 13, 8, 3, 3 and 1 seats so far.
Speaking to reporters, Shibli Faraz, the Federal Minister for Science and Technology and a senior PTI leader, cited internal rifts, poor choices of candidates and rising inflation as key reasons behind the party's poor performance in the polls.