Cantonment elections

September 19, 2021

Although cantonment elections represent a small fraction of the electorate in the country, their results still help understand political trends. This election exercise is better than most surveys to...

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Although cantonment elections represent a small fraction of the electorate in the country, their results still help understand political trends. This election exercise is better than most surveys to feel the political pulse of the electorate.

The PTI has won 63 seats while the PML-N has won 59 seats. The independent candidates are at third spot with 55 seats. The PPP has managed to win 17 seats, the MQM 10 while the JI seven seats. The ANP and BAP also won two seats each.

The cantonment election results are a mix bag. There is something to cheer about for the PTI, PPP and PML-N. But at the same time, there are things to worry about for these parties.

These election results are clearly indicating that nothing can be taken for granted. This is the case in Peshawar, Multan and Rawalpindi for the PTI; Gujranwala, Sargodha and Multan for the PML-N. The situation is still dire for the PPP in Punjab.

These areas are considered a stronghold of these parties. But voters have reacted angrily against these parties for different reasons. The message is clear: don’t take us for granted.

Let’s start with the PTI. Cantonment areas are considered strongholds of the party which won almost all the National Assembly seats in these areas in the 2018 general elections. So, it was expected that it would perform better in these elections. But the PTI has performed poorly in all the major cities of Punjab except Gujranwala. It also failed to perform well in Peshawar where it won just one seat out of five seats. The PPP has won two seats and ANP one in Peshawar Cantonment. The PTI has lost in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Taxila and Wah Cantt, Sialkot, Bahawalpur, Multan, Okara and Sargodha – and won in Jhelum, Kharian and Gujranwala cantonments in Punjab.

The PTI has emerged as the largest party in these cantonment elections with 63 seats. The party can celebrate the fact it won most seats in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and emerged as the largest party in Karachi. It also won in Bannu, Kohat, Dera Ismael Khan, Nowshera and Abbottabad cantonments while losing Peshawar and Mardan. The PTI has done better in Karachi and won 14 seats. But it’s shocking defeat in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Wah Cantt, Multan and Lahore has raised important questions.

Two factors made the PTI leadership overconfident before the cantonment elections. One was its victory in the AJK elections and by-polls on a Punjab Assembly seat in Sialkot. The second was the split in the PDM and differences between the PML-N and PPP. The PTI started to believe that it is in a comfortable position and can defeat its opponents without much trouble. But its defeat in the major cities of Punjab and in Peshawar shocked the party leadership including PM Imran Khan.

The PTI has been wiped out in the Multan, Walton (Lahore) and Rawalpindi cantonments which should be a matter of great concern for the leadership. The defeat in Rawalpindi, Wah/Taxila, Peshawar and Multan is even more shocking because the party had won all the seats from these districts just three years ago.

The defeat in Punjab is a big political setback for the PTI. It seems that people have reacted against the government on issues like unemployment, price hikes and poverty. The other reason is weak party organisation. The PTI government has made the mistake to ignore the party organisation and its die-hard activists since taking power. The party hasn’t learned any lesson from the past mistakes of the PML-N and PPP which ignored their party organisation and activists while in power.

A handful of leaders is making decisions that have political consequences for the whole party. It is a mistake to ignore activists and the second tier of leadership who worked hard for the party for years. The PTI needs to learn from history if it wants to avoid repeating it.

The PML-N is celebrating its victory in Punjab. There is no doubt that the party has dominated Punjab and won 51 seats. The PML-N has once again proved that it is still the dominant political force in Punjab despite internal rifts and confusion over the political narrative. The party’s vote bank seems still intact in Punjab. The results show that the PML-N is still the most popular party in central and northern Punjab. The party dominated in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Wah cantonments while it made a comeback in the Murree and Mangla cantonments.

In Lahore, the PML-N has won 15 seats while the PTI could win just three seats and one independent won a seat. The PML-N once again proved that Lahore is still its stronghold and the PTI has failed to make big inroads into the PML-N’s support base.

The PML-N also made a strong comeback in northern Punjab after suffering a humiliating defeat in the 2018 general elections during which northern Punjab had helped the PTI clinch power. It seems the situation has once again changed. It seems PML-N Rawalpindi leader Hanif Abbasi has made a silent comeback. He was sentenced in the Ephedrine case just a few days before the 2018 general elections and was disqualified.

The defeat in Gujranwala, Okara, Sargodha and Multan should be a matter of serious concern for PML-N leadership. If the PTI has failed in Multan, Okara, and Sargodha so has the PML-N. Independents have defeated both the major parties.

But the real matter of concern for the PML-N is the defeat in Gujranwala, from where it had won all the seats in the 2018 general elections. The PML-N has suffered back-to-back defeats in Gujranwala. First it lost AJK seats and now the cantonment elections. It seems the PTI has been able to make some inroads into the political fortress of the PML-N.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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