The ruling PTI must take the results of Sunday's by-elections as a wake-up call as it is not a good sign for a 60-day government to lose some of the seats it had won and that too won by its chairman, Prime Minister Imran Khan, in July 25. However, all is not lost for PTI, if they are ready to learn some lessons from the polls instead of defending its position like the way energetic Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry did.
The PTI needs a serious review of the government and party policies as decisions in haste like the rise in gas tariff and CNG price did hit the common men, while the party's choice of candidates resulted in internal criticism. It is also the time for Imran to ask party leaders to start winning in his absence.
The biggest lesson for all parties would be to look for measures to improve voting turnout in by-polls and they should get rid of the myth that turnout will always be low in mini polls. None of the party leaders took these polls seriously.
It was also a crucial election for otherwise demoralised PML-N after the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif and completely down Nawaz Sharif who could not cast his vote as he forgot to bring his CNIC and since he came very late not much time was left for polling.
So there is also a lesson for the PML-N too and the news that party may nominate Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as party’s acting president indicates difficulties ahead for the party.
There is also a lot for the PPP from these by-elections to look for space between PTI and PML-N. Perhaps the PPP took the right decision of supporting the PML-N candidates, but amid the party's decline in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Bilawal Bhutto and veteran party leaders have to do something different to bring new life to the party which once again remained confined to Sindh.
Next six months to one year will be crucial for both PTI and opposition as by the time Imran's reform agenda would be known as well as its implementation, the fate of PML-N and PPP leaders’ fate would also be known. But first the party position in the by-elections on 11 national and 24 provincial seats. Both PTI and PML-N shared four seats, each while the PML-Q got two followed one for MMA. In provincial seats, the PTI won four in Punjab and five in KP. The PML-N won five in Punjab and one in KP. The PPP retained two in Sindh, while ANP got three in KP and two went to independents.
For the first time, some 6,000 out of 7,500 overseas Pakistanis, who had registered their names as voters, cast their votes, but the confusion over the validity of their votes could discourage others to get their names registered before the next polls.
While Lahore's result, particularly of NA-131, was not surprising as even in July 25 elections, Imran won by a narrow margin of 700 votes against PML-N veteran Khawaja Saad Rafique. However, the PTI could have performed better had it picked the right candidate. There is no doubt that Humayun Akhtar is an experienced campaigner but could not muster much support from within the PTI supporters who wanted Walid Iqbal as their candidate.
The PTI also lost in Attock mainly because of internal differences and even Fawad Chaudhry and Punjab Information Minister Fayyaz-ul-Hassan Chohan conceded that the choice of candidates was not up to the mark. Results of Bannu and Swat in particular also went against PTI, while it also lost in Faisalabad. The PTI gained in Rawalpindi and retained its position in Islamabad. NA-60, Rawalpindi, which in the past belonged to PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi, has now gone to veteran Sheikh Rashid's family.
Since it is an early wake-up call for PTI, it still has time and chance to improve in certain areas before next year's local government elections, which would be most crucial for the PTI and for Imran's reform agenda.
Meanwhile, the good news for PTI is Karachi as it retained NA-243, which was won by Imran irrespective of the fact that the turn-out was very low because the difference between PTI's Alamgir and MQM's Aamir Chishti was almost double. If the PTI is also able to retain NA-247, won by President Dr Arif Alvi, and the provincial assembly seat by Governor Imran Ismail, it could be a good launching pad for them before the local government elections.
It appears as if the MQM has not learned lesson since 2013 and created a vacuum because of one after another split, which the PTI has easily managed. There seems to be more leaders in MQM today than workers.
Two-year-old Pak Sarzameen Party of former mayor Mustafa Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani has yet to take off because of back-to-back defeats. Since there is no room yet for the MQM-London), the PTI is seemingly set to stay in Karachi as an alternate given that even Jamaat-e-Islami could not improved its position in Karachi since long.
The PML-N has certainly gained in the by-elections, particularly amid the circumstances where its chief stand disqualified for life, the president is in NAB custody and the top leadership is facing serious charges of corruption. It not only retained most of its seats but also regained a few of those won by PTI on July 25.
While Nawaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz looked completely down since the death of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz due to which they did not even address a single corner meeting or even on the anniversary of military takeover and sacking of Sharif's government on Oct 12, the arrest of Shahbaz Sharif was a big loss to the party before the by-polls. Yet the PML-N must feel satisfied with these results in the prevailing situation.
One cannot rule out the possibility of more arrests of PML-N leaders and the party would be in more trouble if any of the verdicts of the three references goes against Nawaz Sharif or even Maryam Nawaz could not get relief or acquittal.
The big question for the PML-N and the Sharif would be how to move forward in the absence of leadership which is facing trial and conviction. Beside Sharifs, PML-N vocal leader Hanif Abbasi has already been convicted for life, Talal Chaudhry and Daniyal Aziz faced contempt and disqualification, while Khawaja Saad Rafique and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi are also not out of trouble yet and Amir Muqam too is down. Moreover, the veteran like Chaudhry Nisar is no more in the party and Javed Hashmi has health issues.
Yet the PML-N has the leadership to run the party provided the Sharifs pose confidence in the veterans like Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, Khawaja Asif, Ahsan Iqbal, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, Ghulam Dastgir, Tehmina Durrani and a few others.
One thing is certain, if Sharifs and even Maryam could not get themselves cleared from the courts, they would have to decide about the future leader from any of the veterans or the energetic Hamza Shahbaz.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang.
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