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Islamabad

February 15, 2018

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Few lessons for Imran

There is lot to learn for Imran Khan and the PTI from a big defeat in Lodhran, if they are ready to learn.

Victory and defeat are of any democratic process but losing a seat and that too in party’s stronghold and constituency of Imran’s number 2, Jahangir Tareen, was like losing a crucial match before the final, which is due in July this year.

Lodhran by-poll not only caused an upset for the PTI, it was also an unexpected result for the PML-N, as it gave a ticket to quite an unknown party candidate. “I have been in politics for almost 40 years, associated with the PML-N. He was not even known to me,” party leader Kh Saad Rafique told this scribe.

Had Imran suspended Tareen’s membership after his disqualification, till he got himself cleared from the court and nominated a more deserving candidate instead of his son, he would have been on a much high moral ground to challenge Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N in Lodhran.

When you accused someone for being disqualified by the court, but, shared the stage with your own disqualified leader, it is difficult to convince your voters. This is what happened in Monday’s by-poll.

Imran’s reaction over Lodhran’s defeat was a matured one as he tried to boost the morale of his workers by saying, we need to learn lesson from defeat. But, PTI’s history tells the story otherwise and they did not even learn from 2013 defeat. It is a good sign for democracy that opposition now learn lesson by accepting defeat with grace.

What Imran need to learn is that why the PML-N had not lost a by-poll since the disqualification of former premier Nawaz Sharif and by winning a PTI seat in Lodhran, it gives a real boost to the PML-N before they go for general elections.

The PML-N had also won most of the by-elections as well as local bodies as well as Cantonment elections in the last four years. All these results could provide lesson for Imran and the PTI.

Learning lessons also means that you need to change your tactic, your politics and remove self-contradictions. Imran needs to assess his politics from 2011 to 2013 and then from 2014 to 2018, he would get the answer. It is also important for him to learn as why the PML-N and Sharifs are in complete control in Punjab for the past three decades. Was it merely because of the support of the establishment in the past or also because their performance on ground much better than PPP.

PML-N’s selling points are three, (1) Nawaz Sharif’s plea that injustice been done to him and with some of his party leaders. Whether it is based on facts or fiction but it is selling. (2) The PML-N developments particularly in Punjab, restoring peace in Karachi and elsewhere. Reduced loadshedding and (3) Despite all kinds of campaign and rumours, the PML-N government will complete its tenure.

The PML-N is also working on three fronts. Since Nawaz was disqualified by the Supreme Court on July 28, 2017, he is on the road, starting from GT Road, and succeeded in making some kind of an impact on his voters and managed to neutralise the campaign against him.

One of the biggest setbacks for both Imran and other opposition parties is the fact that Nawaz/Maryam duo kept the party intact against all odds and predications. Lodhran victory would give further boost to the Sharifs.

Negative campaign whether in the media or in public can be effective but, too much campaign often had opposite reaction. Who knows it better than the PPP which had witnessed one of the worst campaigns against Bhuttos, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto, but, it did not affect their popularity base. The party lost when it got its full term and did not performed well. Thus, he needs to understand that mere negativity does not pay in the long run. Secondly, in the last few years, there were serious contradictions in Imran and PTI’s politics due to which they have not been able to perform well in by-polls. On the one hand, Imran blamed Nawaz as ‘disqualified person’ and on the other backed Tareen, who too had been disqualified. Secondly, he opposed dynastic politics and then awarded ticket to Tareen’s son. Thirdly, he campaigned against Sharifs corruption but, shared the stage with former president Asif Ali Zardari. Fourthly, he claimed he is anti-status quo politics but accepted many ‘lotas’ in his party and lastly, he and his party have not been able to improve their organisational network, which has always been key to elections.

The PTI and opposition created too much media hype but, in the last four and half years unable to launch a single consolidated campaign against the PML-N. Opposition also remains divided and fought more against each other rather with the government.

There is no doubt that Imran Khan is still a popular leader and the PTI, is the only alternate left as the other opposition party ie PPP is badly suffering from ‘self-inflicted’ injuries and if one lesson which they have learnt since 2013, is that they have not learnt any lesson. There is no sign of improvement in the PPP.

While Imran still claims he is anti-status quo, but, when his party accepted ‘status quo’ politicians, shared stage with someone you criticised as much as Sharifs, joined hands with extremists, he also lose neutral voters.

The PTI’s organisation is Imran’s weakest point. His decision not to hold party elections and instead followed other parties by nominating people did not worked out. On the contrary, it has further damaged the party setup. With such a poor organisation he would not be able to cause any major upset against a strong PML-N and that too in its strongest base.

Imran cannot sell anti-Sharif narrative with number of ex-PPP leaders on his side. His party may retain its position in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but, even in KP, he could face a tough time from Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, MMA, and anti-PTI alliance. In Sindh, he hardly stands a chance but, can make some inroads in its capital, Karachi.

Victory or defeat in any by-poll is part of democracy and is a learning process. The result is a wake-up call for Imran and the PTI. One has to wait and see as how the party will take this result as a challenge to improve itself.

For the PML-N, victory in an important by-election is certainly a matter of joy, but, the PML-N leaders would be naive if they think the result as a ‘game changer’. They too have a lesson to learn from their own mistakes as they too have internal problems.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGeo

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