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June 8, 2018
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The PTI and Punjab

Opinion

June 8, 2018

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More and more electables are joining the PTI by the day. The party’s leaders and supporters are happy and are hoping to win the elections in Punjab and form governments in both Islamabad and Lahore. Pro-PTI analysts are trying to create an impression that all those politicians who left their parties for the PTI will win their constituencies.

However, the PTI has finally realised that holding big public meetings and street protests on the corruption narrative is not enough to defeat the PML-N in Punjab. Imran Khan had been campaigning against corruption and politicians who indulge in it for more than two decades. But now he has been forced to accept the same tainted politicians in his party. The PTI still needs to get hold of more electables, especially from Punjab which has traditionally been a stronghold of the PML-N and right-wing forces since the last three decades.

Although it is too early to predict who will win the majority seats in Punjab, one thing is certain that this election will be much more interesting as compared to the 2013 general elections. The PTI now comprises much stronger candidates in many constituencies where it lost badly in the previous elections. If there is one thing we can be sure of it is that the 2018 general elections are not going to be a one-sided affair like they were in 2013, when the PML-N handed down a crushing defeat to the PTI. Most of the former’s candidates in central and northern Punjab won with unprecedented margins. But the situation is going to be different in this election.

It will be wrong to assume that every prominent candidate or so-called electable is capable of winning the election on his own, without any help, patronage or support. There may be only a few candidates in Punjab who can win the elections as independents, but the majority of electables still need the thousands of votes of the PML-N, PTI or PPP. They still need party tickets to put up a strong fight in the constituencies they are contesting elections from.

The traditional politicians belonging to the ruling elite of Punjab are joining the PTI for two main reasons. One: because the new delimitations have reduced one seat each in 10 central Punjab districts. All these National Assembly seats were won by the PML-N’s candidates in the 2013 general elections. It was not possible for the PML-N to accommodate all the sitting MNAs. Hence, a majority of these candidates quit the PML-N and have joined the PTI to contest the upcoming general elections.

Former MNAs Mian Rashid from Narowal, Mian Tariq from Gujranwala, Bilal Virk from Nankana Sahib and some others left the PML-N because their constituencies were abolished in the new delimitations. The latest delimitations have also changed the boundaries of many constituencies, because of which several candidates are now facing serious problems. In some other constituencies, the PML-N wanted to change its candidates and refused party tickets to some sitting parliamentarians. The candidates who quit the PML-N on this basis include Afzal Dhandhla from Bhakar and Dr Nisar Jutt from Faisalabad.

The second reason is that some parliamentarians quit the PML-N because they were not comfortable with the party’s new narrative and confrontational politics. So for them the PTI was naturally the better choice as its narrative is considered directly opposite to that of the PML-N. Many electables joined the PTI because they think it has better chances of forming the next government with the blessings of the ‘power-brokers’. Moreover, many politicians who won as independents but later joined the PML-N when it formed the government at the centre, have already quit the party to contest elections on the PTI’s ticket.

The PTI has a clear edge in southern Punjab as many electables who had won as independents in 2013 have already joined the PTI, and are in a good position to win the 2018 elections. The PTI might emerge as the leading party in southern Punjab but it will need a landslide victory to gain an advantage over the PML-N. The former still needs at least 50 out of 90 central and northern Punjab seats to form the majority. And that will not be easy to achieve.

The PTI knows that it can’t form a government in the centre without winning a good number of seats from Punjab. It needs a minimum of 80 to 90 National Assembly seats from Punjab to form a government in Islamabad. This is an uphill task. The party only managed to win half-a-dozen seats from Punjab in the 2013 elections. Imran Khan was very popular at the time but his popularity did not translate into votes automatically.

However, the induction of electables in big numbers has disillusioned and disappointed the hardcore ideological workers and activists of the PTI, who were hoping to achieve a ‘Naya Pakistan’ under the popular and charismatic leadership of Imran khan. But the party’s increased reliance on electables and compromises has shattered these hopes.

The PTI still needs a major split or defections in the PML-N to win a majority in Punjab. The party is relying on the powers that be to divide and weaken the PML-N to get the required number of electables. The PTI is still not in a position to defeat the PML-N in Punjab without any help and patronage. If the PML-N remained intact till the polling day then it will again become the largest party in Punjab. So, the PTI need both the electables and practical help from powerful forces to defeat the PML-N.

In the recently-dissolved National Assembly, the PTI had only six members from Punjab elected on the general seats. The rest came from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (18 seats), and one each from Sindh and Islamabad. It has no representation in the National Assembly from the rest of the 31 districts. Furthermore, the party also lost the most number of by-elections in Punjab.

The PML-N is in a difficult situation but has not collapsed as a house of cards. If the PML-N succeeded to hold on the party then it will be difficult for the PTI to win a majority. The heavy reliance on electables can backfire and damage the PTI in the largest province.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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