NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 49

Profoundly consequential by elections

The October 16 by-elections on eight National Assembly and three Punjab Assembly constituencies in which the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) swept is not only a manifestation of political dynamics in the country but also would have far-reaching consequences for the country. The elections were held on eight National Assembly seats, which were declared vacant by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) after National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf had verified that the resignations of the PTI MNAs were given out of freewill.

Out of the eight NA and three PA seats, the PTI won six and two seats respectively. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) won two National Assembly and one Punjab Assembly seats respectively. Former Prime Minister Imran Khan rewrote the political history of Pakistan by winning six out of seven NA seats. He broke his own record of winning five NA seats in the 2018 national elections. Mr. Khan single handedly took on the ruling alliance candidates. The most important aspect of his six NA seats triumph is that they have been won in all the three provinces, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Punjab and Sindh. This reinforces the status of Mr. Khan as being the only true national leader in contemporary Pakistan, who is evenly popular all over the country. This is really wholesome for politics, rather the state and society of Pakistan because after a very long time Pakistan has got a true federal leader. On the other hand, all big parties, the PPP and PML-N, have confined themselves to Sindh and Punjab provinces, the respective fortes of these parties. Pakistan as a state and society has such huge challenges that only nationwide political parties and a truly federal and national leader could take them on.

Another very important aspect of the by-elections is that the PTI won against a 13-party alliance. More importantly, all the 13 parties are a part of the ruling alliance currently in the saddle in the federal capital. Winning against the joint candidates of 13 parties was obviously an uphill task for any political leader or political party but Mr. Khan and the PTI have achieved it. The defeat to the ruling alliance has proved without doubt that Mr. Khan is the most popular leader in the country and he has no match in the electoral fray. Interestingly, parliamentary politics is criticized on the ground that the winner is everything while those in second, third and following positions have no value at all. Therefore, this system is known as ‘first-past-the post’ or ‘winners take all.’ In other words, often the winner, who gets the most number of polled votes, has far less ballots in his or her favor, than the combined votes of the runner-up and other candidates. The win of the PTI has overturned this trend as 13 parties were already contesting the former.

The two NA seats, which the PTI lost, include the one in Multan (Punjab) and Karachi (Sindh). It is important to note that in Multan, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmud Qureshi’s daughter was contesting. The PTI has always had a narrative that the party is the true representative of all Pakistanis and unlike other parties is not a family party. Keeping true to this narrative, PTI workers and general supporters rejected giving a ticket for the Multan constituency to the daughter of a party top leader instead of a genuine worker or leader. This is again very good for the democratic culture of Pakistan and the PTI must be given credit for it. In Karachi, PPP stalwart Hakeem Baloch won from his traditional constituency. However, the results are highly suspected as the PPP government in Sindh reportedly stopped PTI supporters from casting their votes. This is evident from the fact that in Faisalabad, Nankana Sahib and small cities, like Charsadda and Mardan in KP, where Mr. Khan won by getting 75,000 plus votes, in Karachi the PPP’s winning candidate got just 35,000 votes while Mr. Khan only 22,000. This is despite the fact that Karachi is the largest city of Pakistan. Thus, losing two NA seats in Multan and Karachi cannot in anyway suggests that Mr. Khan or the PTI are unpopular.

The recent by-elections also manifest the unmatched popularity of the narrative of Mr. Khan and the PTI that their government was sent packing through an international conspiracy hatched by Washington and executed by actors in Pakistan, including the currently ruling parties. So Khan’s incessant argument that the present government is an ‘imported’ government is very much believed by Pakistanis.

Another very important aspect of the by-elections is that it came at a time when the PTI and Mr. Khan have given a final ultimatum to the present government to resign and hold fresh elections as the country needs a new mandate. In order to push for its demand, Mr. Khan has already announced a long march and massive protest in Islamabad. He has announced that the long march would be held before the end of October. Since his removal from the government on April 9 this year, the party has been making an unceasing demand to dissolve the NA and hold new elections. However, the ruling alliance, whose leaders since coming into being of the current National Assembly in July 2018, have been dubbing it as a selected parliament, while coming to power have wholeheartedly accepted it and are now hesitant of holding elections. The plain reason is the massive unpopularity of the ruling alliance. There are two key reasons for this unpopularity. The first is becoming a part of the conspiracy to dislodge an elected and stable government in the country. Secondly, extensively poor governance since coming to power resulting in unprecedented inflation in the country making the lives of the majority of Pakistanis really miserable. On the other hand, Mr. Khan and the PTI have become massively popular for resisting “foreign diktats” and pursuing Pakistan’s national interest by deciding to import oil and gas from Russia, with which the US-led West has been at odds since February this year after an attack by Moscow on Ukraine. The US and the West have been desirous of Pakistan to support their stance on Russia. However, Pakistan under PM Khan refused to become a part of any side and decided only to pursue Pakistan’s interest. So holding by-elections on a few of 128 NA seats from which the PTI had announced resignation in April, the ruling alliance and its controlled state institutions including some constitutional institutions, which ought to act totally autonomously of government pressure, was aimed at testing the waters to know the actual support base of the PTI and Mr. Khan.

After an ignominious defeat at the hands of the PTI, the ruling alliance is still not ready to hold national elections. However, all odds, particularly the public opinion, are against the ruling alliance. Delaying national elections is in no way in the interest of the state and society but only to the advantage of a few politicians and non-political actors. But the country is drifting towards total chaos with each passing day. In this situation if Mr. Khan decides to launch a long march there would be an overwhelming response but one fears whether the situation remains under the control of those who are responsible for controlling it.