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February 14, 2018

Lodhran victory


February 14, 2018

An upset victory by the PML-N’s Iqbal Shah in the NA-154 by-election in Lodhran should serve as a wake-up call to the PTI that its one-note message of trying to dislodge the government has been counter-productive. The seat, which fell vacant after the PTI’s Jehangir Tareen was disqualified from holding public office by the Supreme Court, should have been a routine hold for the party. Its first misstep was in nominating Tareen’s unqualified son Ali to contest the seat, and contradicted the party’s claims that tickets are awarded only on merit. Imran Khan has always railed against the children of politicians inheriting seats and party positions. His insistence that Ali Tareen was the most deserving candidate was unconvincing and has resulted in the party ceding the seat to the PML-N. In previous by-elections in Punjab, the momentum had seemed to be on the PTI’s side as it ate into the PML-N’s lead. Now, with the elections just a few months away, the narrative will change and it will be the PTI that is on the back foot. Imran Khan responded to the defeat by saying it gives the party an opportunity to learn from its mistakes and emerge stronger in time for the general elections.

But if there is one thing the PTI and its leader have shown in the last year, it is that they don’t take to change that quickly. The by-election result is a rebuke not just to hypocrisy when it comes to nepotism, but also an expression of disagreement with the party’s post-Panama tactics. The PTI has been happy adding to the destabilisation of the government. As an opposition party in parliament it has had nothing constructive to offer. This by-election result, though, shows that the politics of destruction has little appeal. For Nawaz Sharif, the victory in Lodhran will be seen as vindication of his own approach. Since being disqualified by the Supreme Court, he has appeared at a series of rallies around the country where he has talked of conspiracies against democracy and his government. In taking the fight to his opponents, he has shown aggression and passion few thought he possessed. Still, the PML-N should be wary of extrapolating too much from one result. The party will not be lucky enough to face off against such novice opponents in the general elections. This result will affirm the party’s favourite tag in the lead-up to the elections but it should not lead to complacency.

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