Thursday January 20, 2022

Lahore’s game-changer

December 02, 2021

Every passing day there is a new scandal changing the Pakistani political landscape. One after the other there are new twists and turns but sadly it has become difficult for the large audience in Pakistan to afford popcorn while looking at this nonstop political entertainer – thanks to the inflation gifted by the man who has successfully taken the country back to the Stone Age.

But as someone said ‘the show must go on...’ – and so the black clouds of tabdeeli are being pushed away by the winds and the sky is gradually getting clearer with hope of relief for Pakistanis affected by this terrible tsunami that blew up stability, peace, prosperity and growth with the misgovernance and arrogance of one man. “If you want to test a man’s character, give him power” is a phrase that fits best on this ruin that has come about just to satisfy one person’s ego. But, now his show is towards a wrap-up and the curtain will finally fall on the farce of tabdeeli.

A new chapter is about to begin where the contest will be only between the previous two competitors – the PML-N and the PPP. This time the battleground is Lahore, a beautiful city with a history of great political movements. All eyes are on the upcoming by-election of NA-133 in Lahore. This seat was earlier held by the PML-N but due to the demise of MNA Pervaiz Malik, the ECP is holding a by-election in this constituency. Interestingly, the PTI is out of the game in this by-election after a deliberate blunder from their candidate whose proposer and seconder were apparently not from the same constituency. This has raised a big question mark on the PTI’s abrupt exit from the scene; it seems the ruling party is reluctant to test the waters and face the enraged voters.

Now that the PTI – which was the runner up in 2018 general elections – is not in the contest, the crucial competition is between the PPP and the PML-N – and this tug of war is moving towards a nail-biting climax. The PPP has nothing to lose while the PML-N has everything on stake because if the latter loses this by-poll then a drastic chain reaction could follow across Punjab. Since the PTI’s ship is sinking many political bigwigs of the province are waiting for the right time to hop off. The house of cards will fall and there might be a surprising change in the political landscape of Punjab. The controversial video that surfaced recently allegedly showing PML-N workers buying voters has raised quite a few eyebrows, and could backfire and dent the PML-N’s prospects.

So far, the PPP is looking focused and serious in this political battle; the party has launched its former prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf who is himself currently an MNA from Gujjar Khan, District Rawalpindi. He is seen to be well connected with workers and knows the art of elections in Punjab. Former president Asif Ali Zardari has also been in Lahore for a while and is himself taking a keen interest in this by-election. This is in contrast to the PML-N where Nawaz Sharif is in London and there have been rumours regarding a conflict between his daughter and his brother. This could confuse their voters. On the other hand, PPP workers have revitalised their energy to give a tough fight in this by-election.

Meanwhile, Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto made a bold decision to hold the party's foundation day public gathering in Peshawar and challenge the PTI which has been ruling Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the past eight years; at the same time, the PPP is challenging the PML-N in Lahore. This is a master stroke and an aggressive approach; the public always admires a challenger.

Lahore was the fortress of the PPP; in the 1970 general elections the party swept the Lahore polls and later in 1988 the PPP gathered eight out of nine National Assembly seats from Lahore. Even in the 2008 general elections, the PPP was the second largest party in terms of votes and seats in Punjab. Moreover, such was the strength and hold of the PPP that some areas in Lahore were called ‘Mini Larkana’; infact SZAB and SMBB both won elections from Lahore. In 1986, SMBB was given a huge historic reception by the people of Lahore when she returned back from exile; it is said to be the biggest public gathering ever in Lahore. Today, the PPP is being revived in the heart of Punjab and trying to gather back its staunch supporters and workers; luckily the current situation is in its favour.

In this winter season this Lahore saga will have suspense, drama and a bit of surprise. One thing is for sure: the PTI has already lost the plot in Punjab and the upcoming contest will be between the PPP and the PML-N. Even if the PPP manages to bring the contest neck to neck with the PML-N, it will uplift the morale of its workers and regain its earlier position in this province but if the PPP gains victory in the Lahore by-election then a trickle-down effect will follow in Punjab – and this might turn out to be a game-changer in Pakistan’s politics.

The writer is a columnist and social activist.

Twitter: @MustafaBaloch_