Ambassador Alam Brohi offers his comments about a curious public phenomenon
The by-elections of 16 October have conveyed a clear message. In normal political conditions, the results of the by-elections would not have inspired elaborate comments. However, in the current political impasse, we can hardly afford to ignore the message given by the populace. Imran Khan’s political movement against the ruling coalition has reached its peak. Voice of the masses message strongly reflects the popular stamp on his demand for general elections. It is a clear signal where the political pendulum has swung and it would be a mistake to ignore such an ominous sign.
The by-elections have inflicted the second crippling setback on the PDM after its massive electoral loss in the by-elections of 22 July, which upstaged the provincial administration of the PMLN in Punjab. These by-elections were more significant being spread over three provinces of KPK, Punjab, and Sindh and signified a litmus test for the contesting in their traditional electoral bases. The Speaker’s Secretariat deliberately chose these constituencies for the acceptance of the resignations of the PTI members which the components parties of PDM, in multiple contests, had lost by a thin margin in 2018. This time around, the PDM leadership expected to humble and humiliate PTI.
Given the popularity of the PTI, it is quite obvious that the PDM has well-strategized its electoral contest. They pitted veterans as joint candidates in every constituency for a one-to-one electoral fight; carried out a vigorous door-to-door campaign, and invested a lot of time and resources in winning over the politically and electorally influential families within the constituencies; unleashed a barrage of propaganda employing all conceivable tools to discredit the PTI chief as corrupt, a liar, characterless, tongue lasher, egoist, fascist, conspirator, unpatriotic, anti-Islam, etc. A series of his dubious tape-recorded conversations was also released to unsuccessfully influence the voters.
KPK Three Constituencies
The three constituencies in the KPK were left to the popular Awami National Party (ANP) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The ANP pitted veteran politician Ghulam Ahmed Bilour and Aimal Wali Khan in Peshawar and Charsadda respectively while JUI banked on the widely revered Moulana Muhammad Qasim in Mardan. By all means, the PDM would not have fielded stronger candidates than these gentlemen. They had been defeated in 2018 due mainly to the division of the votes in multiple contests. Casting a look at the electoral contests between the main parties including PTI, JUI, ANP, PPP, and PMLN in 2002, 2008, 2013, and 2018, the odds against PTI in the straight one-to-one fight were high.
The PMLN had lost the NA 108 (Faisalabad) and 111 (Nankana Sahib) by a couple of thousand votes in the previous general election. These were the traditional seats of Sheralis and Kharals of PML-N respectively, which they used to win even in multiple contests. Sherali Khan and later on his son, Abid Sherali Khan, have been winning Faisalabad 108 since the 1990s. He lost the seat to Farrukh Habib of PTI by 1,200 votes in multiple contests. Similarly, Rai Mansab Ali Kharal represented Nankana Sahib for many terms. The seat was inherited by his foreign-educated daughter, Dr. Shuzra Mansab Ali Khan. She lost to Brigadier Aijaz Shah of PTI by 2,500 votes in 2018. The TLP and PPP had polled 49,000 and 18,700 votes respectively in the contest. Both seats were considered secure.
The NA-157 Multan has a substantial vote bank of Gilani, Syeds, Makhdooms, and PMLN. In 2018, there was a three-way contest between Zain Qureshi of PTI, Musa Gilani of PPPP, and Malik Abdul Ghaffar Dogar of PMLN.
Some Other Seats By Polling And Voice Of The Masses
Zain Qureshi won the seat by polling 77,000 votes with Musa Gilani trailing closely by a vote count of some 70,000. Dogar polled some 62,000 votes. This time around, the contest was one-to-one and the PTI candidate was also weak being a novice in the political and electoral field. The party probably could have found a stronger candidate.
Hakeem Baloch has been representing NA-237 Malir since the 1990s. He had also won the seat from PPP on the ticket of PMLN. In 2018, he lost the seat by 2,200 votes to Jamil Ahmed of PTI. Zain ul Abdin of PMLN polled 14,000 votes. NA-239 Karachi traditionally belonged to MQM-P. In 2018, Suhail Khwaja Manzoor of MQM lost the seat to Akram Cheema of PTI in a close fight. He polled 68,000 votes; falling short of 1,000 votes to the PTI vote count of 69000. Farman Ali Shah of TLP polled 30,000.
However, the PDM, owing to the burden of incumbency, could not match the massive public mobilization by the PTI chief. The political discourse of Imran Khan blaming a foreign power and its stooges for the removal of his government remains unbeaten. There can be no two opinions about it that the by-elections have shown the public hunger for elections; robbing the PDM of all the moral authority and political legitimacy to rule the country. The political uncertainty has further deepened, looming large to exasperate economic hardships for the people. A half-empty and dysfunctional parliament provide no guarantee against the derailment of the besieged political system.
National Assembly Voice Of The Masses
There should also be no doubt that the people would massively respond to Imran Khan’s call for a long march if our political leaders fail to find a middle path to resolve the political impasse. The PTI has reached a cul-de-sac. It has no option other than the last-ditch attempt to dislodge the federal regime if the PDM leadership remains unmoved.
Given the charged atmosphere, the long march would spell political and security disaster. Imran Khan would probably consider returning to the National Assembly if given a solid justification to withdraw his boycott of the Assembly.
All the old and well-beaten remedies to deal with stronger and popular leaders in the past have spelled long-term political and economic disasters for the country. We are at a crossroads. Elections are the straight way to come out of the current political impasse of the voice of the masses and some political demands. while futile attempts to prolong the lame-duck PDM regime would add to the anger of the populace. The key to resolving the political crisis lies with the PDM leadership and any wrong or delayed action may further complicate the situation and put the country in peril. The Weekender