Political roadmap

October 23, 2022

The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is likely to continue its aggressive political posturing following Imran Khan’s resounding victory in the by-polls

Political roadmap


y-election results have once again charged up the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). However, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) too is claiming that the results show a trend in its favour.

The PTI has indeed lost two seats in the National Assembly to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) so that the strength of the ruling alliance has increased in the parliament. The coming weeks have enough to keep the political situation fluid. For all one knows the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) supremo Nawaz Sharif might return to the country; else Imran Khan could call for the long march he has been promising.

By-polls were held for eight National Assembly and three Punjab Assembly constituencies on October 16. Imran Khan contested seven of the NA constituencies and won six of those. However, he lost to PPP’s Hakeem Baloch in Karachi’s Malir constituency and Meher Bano Qureshi, daughter of the former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, lost a family constituency to Ali Musa Gillani, the son of former prime minister Yousaf Raza Gillani.

The PTI also won two Punjab Assembly seats vacated by PML-N MPAs. This means that Chief Minister Parvez Elahi has two more legislators on the treasury benches to support him. The PML-N, the leading component of the ruling alliance contested two National Assembly and three Punjab Assembly seats, but won only one Punjab Assembly constituency in Sharqpur, Sheikhupura.

The PTI and the PDM components are interpreting these results in different ways and adjusting their strategies accordingly.

After the by-polls, Imran Khan said that the PDM leaders were “running away” from elections. The government rejected his demand or snap polls. Khan said that he had given the government some time to take the ‘right’ decision and announce a date for the general elections. If it did not seize the opportunity, he said, he would march on Islamabad. He said the march will not be delayed beyond October. He said that the government was trying its best to have him disqualified.

There was a vast difference between the election campaigns of the PTI and the PDM. While Khan addressed huge public rallies in all the constituencies, top PDM leaders did not show up – possibly because a majority of them hold government offices.

Some PDM leaders say the expenditure of resources and energy would have been a waste. They point out that Imran Khan cannot hold more than one National Assembly seat at a time.

During his election campaign, Khan had described the by-polls as a referendum against the government. After the results, having set a new record by winning six National Assembly constituencies, Khan and several stalwarts of his party claimed that the people of Pakistan had given a resounding verdict against the federal government. In making this claim, they seemed to ignore some facts. Khan is clearly at the zenith of his popularity and firmly believes that his party will win a two-thirds majority in the next elections. However, the results from Malir and Multan where the PPP has won indicate that the trend is not universal.

Political roadmap

The by-election results are a strong reason for the PML-N leaders to rethink their political strategy. In the August by-elections for 20 seats in the Punjab Assembly, the PML-N lost 15. In the recent by-polls it lost four constituencies out of five in the Punjab it contested, two for the National Assembly and two for the provincial assembly. Nawaz Sharif’s charisma is clearly needed back in Pakistan. None of the other party leaders including Shahbaz Sharif, Maryam and Hamza have been able to revive the PML-N’s popularity.

Awami National Party’s Aymel Wali Khan in Charsaddah, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam’s Maulana Muhammad Qasim in Mardan and PML-N’s Shazreh Mansab in Nankana Sahib lost with close margins. In most of the constituencies, Khan polled fewer votes than his party had received in the 2018 elections.

Khan has once again said that his party can return to the parliament once a date has been announced early general elections. However, the PDM leaders have maintained that the next elections will only be held after the completion of the National Assembly’s term. If Khan does not return to the National Assembly, he will likely announce a long march in a few days.

The PDM has apparently decided on a strategy to counter the siege of the federal capital threatened by Khan. However, a large-scale confrontation at this stage may be harmful for the economy and the rehabilitation of the flood-hit populations.

Khan has also admitted recently that back-channel negotiations are under way and might result in early elections. However, details about such talks are unclear. Recent statements by President Arif Alvi support the impression that negotiations for a political settlement are under way and that as a result the government may announce a schedule for early elections and that the PTI might return to the parliament.

Talking to the media after the by-elections, former federal minister Fawad Chaudhry said that negotiations were being held with the government regarding the elections. “President sahib is holding the talks,” he said. He said the PTI was ready to hold a formal dialogue with the government if it agreed to hold snap elections. “If they (government) are willing to hold early elections, we can sit with them,” he said.

Political roadmap

Talking to The News on Sunday, a highly informed PDM source said: “Political situations in Pakistan can take sharp turns. It is clear that the army chief does not want another extension but you never know what might happen tomorrow. It is obvious that the military leaders are neutral currently but one cannot say anything about the future. Those involved in the back-channel talks are trying to persuade the PDM and the PTI to reach an agreement. The prime minister might announce the name of the next army chief in the first week of November and thereafter the election schedule.”

The by-polls results have provided a strong reason for the PML-N leaders to rethink their strategy. The Punjab has been a PML-N stronghold for decades. However, in the August by-elections for 20 seats of the Punjab Assembly, the PML-N lost 15 and in the recent by-polls it lost four constituencies out of the five it contested, two for the National Assembly and two for the provincial assembly. This shows that Nawaz Sharif’s charisma is needed back in Pakistan. None of the PML-N leaders including Shahbaz Sharif, Maryam and Hamza, have been able to revive the PML-N’s popularity. Sharif’s return is the only hope for the party.

Meetings are apparently under way to finalise a plan for his return. Maryam is likely to return with her father in a repeat of when they came back after being convicted by an accountability court. Maryam’s conviction has already been overturned by the Islamabad High Court and Nawaz Sharif might be exonerated in the near future.

The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism and analyst.

Political roadmap