The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) may be happy that it has emerged as the largest party in recent cantonment boards elections and bagged votes in every province. It was expected to perform better than other parties as the ruling party in the Centre usually wins local polls, as people vote for it for development schemes in their areas. However, the real surprise came from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which outclassed the ruling party in Punjab, proving that the most populous province of the country is still its stronghold and it will give a hard time to the ruling party in local and general elections.
The PML-N’s success is also significant in the wake of rifts in the party over different narratives adopted by the Sharif brothers. Recently, MNA Javed Latif, who is a member of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s group, was issued a show-cause notice by the party for indirectly criticising PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif and other members of his faction. The letter was issued by PML-N secretary general Ahsan Iqbal after Shehbaz Sharif protested his comments on TV that “four to five leaders in the PML-N are on an “assignment” to distort the party’s narrative (respect the vote).” Indirectly criticising Shehbaz, who backs the narrative of reconciliation with national institutions, Javed Latif said, “Those who are on an assignment talk about reconciliation. I don’t want to name them but when seasoned leaders harm the party’s narrative, it is not possible without an assignment.” Later, the MNA claimed that he knew how Nawaz Sharif was convinced to serve a notice on him as the PML-N supremo was not ready for it. He also explained that some leaders speak against Nawaz’s narrative in party meetings. Earlier, Shehbaz Sharif was embarrassed after the party issued a clarification on his idea of a national government, terming it his personal opinion.
Despite the widening cracks in the party, it is a miracle that it bagged almost twice the seats of the ruling party in Punjab in cantonment boards’ elections. According to unofficial results, the PTI secured 60 seats while the PML-N bagged 57, while independents claimed 43 seats. On the other hand, Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which claims to form a government in Sindh and the Centre, could not win a single seat in Punjab, though it managed to win 14 seats, mainly from Sindh, followed by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) with 10. The Jamat-i-Islami (JI) won six seats while the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) bagged three.
A total of 1,513 candidates contested the polls to win general member seats in 206 wards of the cantonment boards. There were 878 candidates in the run in 112 wards of 19 cantonments in Punjab; 418 in 53 wards of eight cantonments in Sindh; 170 candidates in 33 wards of nine cantonments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and 47 candidates in eight wards of three cantonments in Balochistan. The PTI had fielded the highest number of 178 candidates in all the four provinces, followed by the PML-N and the PPP with 140 and 112 candidates, respectively. The PML-N, however, could not field any candidate in Balochistan.
In Punjab, the PML-N bagged 50 seats compared to the PTI’s 27. In Lahore cantonment, the PML-N bagged 15 of 19 wards while the PTI managed to win only two seats with one going to an independent candidate. In Sialkot, the PML-N bagged three while the PTI won two seats. In Jhelum, the PTI bagged two seats. In Gujranwala, the PTI bagged six seats while the PML-N and independents won two seats each. In Sargodha, independents bagged five wards whereas the PTI and the PML-N managed to win three and two seats, respectively. In Taxila cantonment, the PML-N won three and the PTI two seats. In Wah cantonment, the PML-N bagged eight and the PTI two seats.
In Multan, independent candidates won nine of the 10 seats whereas the remaining one was bagged by the PML-N. In Okara, independent candidates won four of the five seats. However, in Bahawalpur, the PML-N got three and the PTI two seats. The PTI won two seats each in Kharian and Mangla, respectively, while the PML-N and independents secured one each in the two cantonments.
In Sindh, the PTI bagged the highest number of seats — 14 — out of a total of 42. The PPP came in second with 11 while the JI got five seats. The MQM-P and the PML-N won three seats each while independents got six seats.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI emerged victorious with 16 seats, followed by eight independents, whereas the PML-N bagged all four seats in its Hazara stronghold. The PPP and the ANP managed to win three and two wards, respectively. In Balochistan, independents won in two wards while the PTI secured three seats. The Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) won the election in three wards.
The results in Punjab provide a clear picture of local polls in the province and general elections in the country. As the PML-N is expected to give a hard time to the PTI in local and general elections in Punjab, the former ruling party may not be able to win many seats from other provinces. On the other hand, the PTI has emerged as the only national party in the country, though people are extremely annoyed at it over rising prices and bad governance.
However, the situation will not remain the same in the next general election. The ruling party will have to overcome inflation and improve governance significantly to defeat the opposition parties.