Wednesday December 07, 2022

A surprising win

July 19, 2022

The PTI has trounced PML-N in the Punjab by-polls. According to unofficial results, the PTI has won 15 out of 20 seats. The PML-N could manage to win just four seats while one seat went to independents. The PTI got 46 per cent of the votes polled, the PML-N 39 per cent, independents 7.7 per cent and TLP five per cent.

The turnout was little over 49 per cent; this high turnout played an important role in the PTI win since the party was able to mobilize its voters in big numbers. The PML-N failed to fully mobilize its periphery voters. Differences within the PML-N also damaged the party in many constituencies.

The voters have spoken clearly and loudly through the ballot – against the economic policies of the coalition government. The PTI candidates did not just win, they won big. It was not a close election as many had thought it would be. I must confess here that my own predictions on 10 seats went wrong. I was expecting at least 11 seats for the PML-N.

The PTI has won enough seats to gain a majority in the Punjab Assembly and to form the provincial government on July 22. The party now has 178 seats in the Punjab Assembly – five seats less than the tally before the April 16 defections, which means it has lost five seats. The PML-Q has 10 seats so Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi is likely to bag 188 votes on July 22. This means that the brief stint of Hamza Shehbaz as CM has come to an end. The PML-N now has 168 seats in the Punjab Assembly.

I must confess here that I underestimated the surge of support for the PTI. The party has expanded its support beyond the middle class and into the lower middle class, small farmers and working class. On the other hand, the PML-N has lost support in the last three months. The decision to form government in Islamabad and Punjab has backfired. The rising inflation and loadshedding has eroded some of the support as well.

Four factors have largely contributed to the PTI victory. One, Imran Khan has been able to translate his personal popularity into votes for his candidates, and has proved that he is the most popular leader in the country. He has also been able to convince not only his supporters but also a large section of independent voters that he was wrongly ousted from power.

Two, Imran Khan has put forward a clear narrative for his supporters. In the last three months, he kept his party mobilized and on a daily basis repeated his narrative of regime change and international conspiracy with an anti-establishment rhetoric. He successfully built a popular narrative based on religion, nationalism, and anti-West and anti establishment slogans.

Three, young and independent voters played a crucial role in the victory. Every constituency has 20-30 per cent independent or swing voters. The majority of independent and young voters opted to vote for the PTI.

Four, the voters have reacted strongly against ‘lotacracy’. Imran Khan has successfully built an anti-lota narrative against the defectors. The voters also strongly reacted against the way the PML-N had formed the government in Punjab.

The results are a political disaster for the PML-N, and a timely wakeup call before the general election.

The PML-N failed to justify the huge increase in prices of petrol and diesel, never figuring out how to sell its narrative on the rising inflation. The blame-Imran-Khan strategy didn’t work.

Two, the large influx of PTI candidates into the PML-N clearly divided the party at a local level. In many constituencies, the PML-N’s local leadership didn’t actively participate in the campaign. The lack of interest of many local leaders contributed towards a low turnout of PML-N voters. Many PML-N voters were not convinced enough about voting for turncoats.

Many PML-N leaders openly or silently opposed the ticket holders but the PML-N leadership ignored this, and eventually paid a heavy price. A divided PML-N tried to compete with a united and resilient PTI. It is worth mentioning here that the PML-N had lost all these 20 constituencies in the 2018 general elections. It was hoping that these electables would manage to win these seats for it.

Three, the PML-N has underestimated the mood of the general public. The people are angry and they have shown their anger in the by-polls. It seems that voters have silently reacted against the price hikes they have faced in the last three months.

The writer is a freelance journalist.