All major political parties have started vigorous campaigns to win elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Their leaders are addressing public rallies and levelling outrageous allegations against each other to woo voters. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, the ruling party in the Centre, is favourite to sweep the polls but two mainstream opposition parties, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), are trying to bag the maximum number of seats against all odds.
All political parties are using the Azad Jammu and Kashmir polls as an exercise for the next general elections, which are due in 2032. The run-up to the elections will see intense fighting, allegations and counter-allegations among the three parties. In fact, they have already launched their election campaigns. The ruling party in the Centre, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has announced mega development funds in budgets to attract voters. The PPP, which rules Sindh, has also unveiled a Rs329 billion Annual Development Programme (ADP) for 2021-22, which is more than double the revised ADP of the last fiscal year.
The federal government has announced a Rs900 billion Federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for 2021-22, which is 38pc higher than the last year’s programme of Rs650 billion. In its third budget, the ruling party significantly increased subsidies and incentives for big business, manufacturing, corporate market and agriculture sectors. The Punjab government rolled out a Rs2,232.7 billion fiscally expansionary, growth budget for the next financial year that doles out massive funds for PTI legislators for execution of development projects in their constituencies under the district development package, proposes launching of a universal health insurance scheme and implementation of infrastructure projects across the province. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government unveiled a Rs1.118 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2021-22, with a record development outlay of Rs371 billion. The PPP’s Sindh government unveiled a Rs329 billion Annual Development Programme (ADP) for 2021-22, which is more than double the revised ADP of the last fiscal year. The development expenditure of the province was estimated at Rs329.032 billion.
The threat of the opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement, has subsided and the ruling party is certain to complete its five-year term. The PTI is strong in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and may form a government in the province for the record third time, but it will have to work really hard to defeat the PML-N in Punjab in the next election. The defeat of the ruling party on one provincial assembly seat each in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent by-polls has also exposed its vulnerability, infighting and serious threats from the opposition in local and general elections. The PML-N won the PP-51 Wazirabad by-election by a fair margin. The victory is being seen as a big achievement, which shows its vote bank has remained intact despite several setbacks to the party since the last general election. It also indicates serious challenges it poses to the ruling PTI when local elections will be held later this year. On the other hand, the ruling party can be satisfied with the fact that its vote bank has increased since the last general election, despite the reality that people are annoyed at it over rising prices and bad governance.
The biggest shock to the PTI came in Nowshera, when PML-N’s Ikhtiyar Wali won the by-election by securing 21,122 votes. Nowshera is the home city of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak and a stronghold of the ruling PTI. Infighting was the main reason behind the ruling party’s defeat in the constituency. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government acted within hours of the PTI’s defeat in the by-polls and sacked Irrigation Minister Liaqat Khattak, brother of Defence Minister Pervez Khattak, for supporting the PML-N candidate in the polls. He was at odds with his elder brother and the ruling PTI over the denial of a ticket to his son. Though the loss did not affect the strength of the ruling party in the provincial assembly, yet it offered fresh hopes to the opposition.
The PPP retained both its provincial assembly seats in Karachi and Sanghar by-polls. PPP’s Yousaf Baloch won in PS-88 Malir, Karachi, and Jam Shabeer Ali in PS-43, Sanghar. The PPP also won by-polls for the National Assembly constituency, NA-221, Tharparkar. Its biggest victory in by-polls came in NA-249, Karachi, when Qadir Khan Mandokhail emerged victorious. The seat had fallen vacant after PTI’s Faisal Vawda resigned over his dual nationality controversy and became a senator. The PTI fared poorly and its candidate remained fifth. The by-poll results show the PML-N has retained its vote bank in its strongholds, especially in Punjab. The success in Punjab is really impressive and sounds alarm bells for the ruling party in local government elections. The ruling party’s spirit is still high as its candidates have obtained more votes than the general election. However, if elections are held now, it will face a big defeat because people are annoyed at it over high prices and bad governance. The ruling party still has enough time to improve its performance and win the general election in 2023. It should also reform the process to avoid the allegation of rigging in the next election.
According to former Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the establishment has no option other than Imran Khan in the next election. It is a fact that the PML-N and the PPP have left no other option for the establishment than to back him. Abbasi’s words show his desperation and bright prospects of Imran Khan to become the prime minister for another term.