The PTI’s victory in the Punjab by-polls has invigorated PTI workers who played a big role in the PML–N’s embarrassing defeat in its power base. Many political circles and analysts, including government allies, are equally surprised by the election results.
The PPP has urged all coalition parties to come up with a joint strategy to move forward and claimed that political parties will have to reach a consensus to hold dialogues. Vice President of the PML-N Maryam Nawaz Sharif has set a positive precedent by accepting the election results, asking the party to reflect upon the defeat and find out its weaknesses.
Critics believe that the PML-N adopted several tactics to win the elections; some of them included Hamza Shehbaz’s decision to reduce the prices of essential commodities and to offer free electricity to residential units consuming up to 100 units, which was struck down by the court. The party also allegedly resorted to sledgehammer tactics against PTI workers and leaders, with the Punjab government arresting some party leaders and barring others from entering Punjab.
A couple of days before the elections, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif addressed the nation to inform the hapless people that the government was reducing the prices of petrol and diesel. Many detractors believed that the address was meant to influence voters, but even this move could not help the ruling party expand its support base.
The party of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif is now offering various excuses for the defeat. The party supremo has reportedly admitted that the reason for the recent defeat is the tough economic decisions the party took over the last two months. PML-N leader Khawaja Asif has claimed that these constituencies were won by the PTI in the 2018 elections as well and that the PML-N doesn’t have a stronghold in these constituencies.
Some analysts believe that the party has been played by the country’s powerful quarters. All the failures of the blue-eyed man have now been shifted on to the shoulders of the PML-N. Some believe that Imran Khan’s anti-establishment narrative has demonstrated miracles, proving that to be successful in Pakistan’s politics, it is important to adopt an approach that challenges the powerful elements of the state. Awarding tickets to turncoats instead of loyal political workers is said to be another factor leading to the PML-N’s defeat. It is also being claimed that the results indicate people’s aversion towards political opportunism and politics of selling loyalty.
Let us analyze some of these arguments: Nawaz Sharif blames tough economic decisions for the party’s failure. This defeat should at least make it clear to the PML-N and all those political parties that want to follow a neoliberal agenda that what they describe as tough decisions are considered brutal aggressive policies of the private capital that are meant to exploit the poor. If politicians do not consider these policies as anti-people, they are bound to implement them again, which will make them even more unpopular among ordinary people.
Khawaja Asif’s claim that these constituencies are not the PML-N’s stronghold needs some clarification. While he may not be wrong in making this assertion, if the party was not interested in winning the seats, why did it spend millions of rupees or perhaps billions of rupees on massive political gatherings and election campaigns? The ruling elite may come up with a number of excuses for the defeat, but, in reality, the naked new liberal agenda of the Shehbaz Sharif government is responsible for the PML-N’s defeat.
The leadership of the PDM has proved that it is more loyal to private capital and international monetary institutions than Imran Khan. While Khan was reluctant in implementing a few policies of the IMF that would not have gone down well with ordinary citizens, Shehbaz Sharif expressed a strong desire to implement such anti-people policies. The Imran Khan government increased the prices of petroleum products by Rs50 during its entire tenure, but the Sharif government resorted to an unprecedented increase in petroleum products, making the lives of ordinary people more miserable and forcing some poor rickshaw drivers to set their vehicles on fire in protest against rising inflation.
They did not stop at this and also raised gas and electricity prices. Perhaps the ruling elite could not notice the reaction of people over such increases that pushed millions of people below the poverty line, besides raising the cost of doing business, which forced businesses to fire tens of thousands of people. One big export-oriented company in Karachi lay off more than 4,000 workers. Factories stopped running second and third shifts because of gas shortages, creating more hardships for workers who could not earn enough to meet both ends.
The excuse of the incumbent government that it had no option cannot be accepted. Politics is the art of possibilities. Amidst the quagmire of corruption and anti-people policies, New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal extended help to the people of his province, launching a number of schemes that benefitted them. His popularity travelled to other parts of India, prompting the people of East Punjab to vote his party’s candidate into power. One of the reasons that helped him shoot to popularity lies in his pro-people policies.
But unlike Kejriwal, the PML-N loves to reward big businesses besides squandering public money on large mega projects that enrich a few contractors and big companies but fail to mitigate the suffering of people. It could have abolished over $17 billion subsidies doled out to the rich or urged the powers that be to slash the budget of the non-development sector.
Instead of coming up with any pro-people policies, it released billions of rupees for independent power producers whose incompetence has added to the national debt. It failed to address loadshedding that paralyzed the lives of millions, especially those living in rural areas of the country. The relief package that hands out Rs2,000 per month to people earning less than Rs40,000 is also not enough.
Despite all that, the Shehbaz-led government had a dogged determination to carry out more anti-people policies. Its privatization commission is chalking out plans to sell more state-run entities that are likely to retrench more workers, creating more unemployment and poverty. Maryam Nawaz has urged the party to reflect upon its weaknesses. It is these naked neoliberal policies that infuriated people. A party cannot win the people’s support by snatching their livelihood, making them jobless, depriving them of shelter and making it impossible for them to make ends meet. Does the PML-N have any policies that can lift over 60 million people out of poverty, put 25 million out-of-school children back in school, provide pure drinking water to over 80 per cent of the population or extend decent housing to over 67 per cent of the people? The party needs to admit that the failure lies in following the neoliberal agenda.
The writer is a freelance journalist who can be reached at: egalitarianism444@gmail. com
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