Saturday September 18, 2021

A change in fortunes?

July 30, 2021

We appear to be seeing a turnaround in the political playing field. Whereas the opposition had won eight out of nine by-elections held in the past, things seem to be changing – with the Azad Kashmir election going by a huge margin to the PTI, which claimed 25 out of 45 seats, and the by-poll in Sialkot lost by the PML-N which had previously held the seat by 7000 votes, whereas it had won it by 17,000 votes in 2018. Is it then that the PTI is gaining a stronger hold over the hearts and minds of people? Are its policies working despite high inflation and the other problems which continue to plague the country? Or is it as seems more likely that the opposition has played its cards extremely badly, perhaps especially in the case of the PML-N. The fact that there is a clear divide within the party with Shahbaz Sharif taking a different line to that of Maryam Nawaz does not help matters within the party. It also sends out a mixed message to PML-N voters.

Since the PDM was set up, the opposition has faced one setback after another. The AJK election showed the extent to which this exists, although it is also a fact that traditionally the ruling party wins in AJK and has done so consistently in the past. The Sialkot by-poll should be a matter of bigger concern to the PML-N, which has claimed that there was rigging, similar to the kind which took place in Daska, a seat which finally went to the PML-N after a court battle. But this time it's not too easy to prove the allegations. The margin of loss for the PML-N is high and there is clear evidence that the party is facing more and more difficulties. It's also obvious that the opposition is no longer a united one, and the divisions within the PML-N itself are hurting the party.

So, is the PML-N finally losing its grip over Punjab, the province that calls its home and the province which sends the largest number of representatives to the National Assembly? This is a time when the PML-N should be questioning its own tactics and its own sense of direction. After the AJK polls and the acrimony seen there between the leaders of the PTI, the PML-N and the PPP, we should also be concerned about the political scenario in the country as a whole. The ugly language used, notably by minister Ali Amin Gandapur towards Maryam Nawaz, and the exchange between Maryam Nawaz and Imran Khan, bringing in their children, is unpleasant. We would not like our politics to take this direction. For the moment, the PML-N – and the larger opposition – may need to go back to the drawing boards to figure out their ‘what next’ plans.