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Islamabad

February 15, 2018

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Nawaz prevails in Lodhran

Islamabad: Ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s post-disqualification narrative that he started building up with a bang on the day of his deposition, July 28, evoked an unprecedented emotional and political resonance, which was witnessed in the high-profile by-election to NA-154 Lodhran once again.

The comprehensive beating of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidates and the huge success of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) nominee showcased a number of factors and lessons for the contesting parties and exploded some myths. The defeat was particularly devastating for all the time high-flying PTI. Its cardholder was trounced by a total margin of 67,000 votes - present lead of 27,000 ballots of his main rival and 2015’s edge of Jehangir Tareen of 40,000 votes.

Nawaz Sharif’s extraordinary bashing, maligning and abusing by different political and other players and pushing him against the wall since the eruption of the Panama papers in April 2016, and his resultant ejection by the top court has made the electorate believe that he has been victimized, deserving support. The “victimhood card” that he has played well has enhanced his popular appeal. He effectively bolstered his story on these harsh realities. His frequent appearances along with his daughter Maryam before an accountability court strengthened the perception that he was being cornered as per a premeditated plan, which may culminate in his conviction.

Apart from these solid factors, the PML-N government’s performance in a multitude of fields especially mega projects that no previous regime could demonstrate on ground contributed to climaxing his standing, which has been translated into an augmented vote-bank. He has emerged the only most defiant and aggressive leader of Pakistan, an undisputed fact that has got acceptance from the voters.

It is generally claimed by the PML-N’s detractors that this party is weakest in south Punjab (Seraiki belt) for ignoring the region and focusing its attention on Lahore alone and its stronghold is limited to the areas surrounding the GT Road in central Punjab. However, the outcome of the by-poll has exploded this myth. The PPP always asserted that it would come out with unusual results from Seraiki region in the upcoming general election. A similar claim has been consistently projected by the PTI.

However, the poor appalling tally (only 3,189 votes) made by the PPP left no doubt that it is still in a very poor shape, having not recovered from the abyss in which it fell in the 2013 election. The high-sounding slogans of its leaders have not added anything to its political profile.

At the personal level, Ali’s defeat was a gigantic blow to his father, Jehangir Tareen, who is a senior PTI leader and the number one confidante of his chairman Imran Khan. Tareen was desperate to regain the seat that he had vacated after his Supreme Court-imposed disqualification. For the PTI, it was even a greater shattering knock, which punctured its oft-repeated high claims about its popularity.

The electoral upset surprised many because most people believed that Ali would easily get the seat due to the influence and affluence of his father. It was particularly amazing for the mere fact that Ali was identified nationwide because of being the son of senior PTI leader while PML-N representative Pir Iqbal Shah was totally unacknowledged and was not even noticed during his election campaign.

Conversely, the result was a welcome boost for Nawaz Sharif at this point of time when perpetual concerted efforts are afoot from different fronts to trim his electoral prospects and ultimately expel him from the political theatre although he is fighting back with full force. The outcome would further cement unity in the PML-N as everyone associated with it will see his future by remaining with it.

Imran Khan’s umpteen U-turns have helped to condense his following with the passage of time. He has waged a relentless campaign against dynastic politics – ascendancy of Maryam, Humza and Bilawal by the Sharifs and Zardari – but when it came to awarding the ticket in Lodhran, he also followed what he has been loudly slamming.

His second recent outburst – cursing the parliament – also believably played a role in poor faring of Ali and exceptional showing by the PML-N competitor. Imran Khan wanted his man to be in the same ‘cursed’ parliament even for three months. The voters threw out the nominee of a person, who curses parliament, and supported the candidate of a leader, who seeks respect for vote and dignity of the legislature.

This is the third consecutive thumping victory of the PML-N in by-elections in the Punjab areas of Lahore, Chakwal and Lodhran after July 28. In the majority province, Nawaz Sharif is apparently unstoppable. His nemeses have pinned high hopes on his likely conviction by the accountability court and strongly believe that his sentencing will end his politics and the electoral field will be free from their chief opponent. However, his conviction may also backfire politically as his disqualification boomeranged.

In two tweets, Mushahid Hussain aptly summed up the Lodhran by-poll result: The people have spoken loud and clear: whether it’s central Punjab (Lahore), Chakwal (northern Punjab), Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) or Lodhran (southern Punjab in the famous Seraiki belt, supposed stronghold of anti-PML-N forces! What a fall: from a win of 40,000 in 2015 to decisive defeat now! The tide has turned: from Lahore, January 17, when the ‘Unholy Alliance’ fell apart to biggest rally in Peshawar’s history on February 4 to the biggest political upset at Lodhran tonight: hat trick of victories for PML-N! It’s up, up and away for Mian sb! Goodbye to a hung Parliament!

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