VIEW POINT: Shifting sands of Punjab politics


No by-election has ever been watched with as much interest as the one in NA-122. The reason
is obvious: the PML-N had to prove that it did not steal the seat (one of the four made most
controversial by the PTI) as part of an alleged wider electoral fraud in the 2013 general
elections while the PTI had to disprove the same. In the event, the de-seated NA speaker Ayaz
Sadiq won back the seat, even if by the skin of his teeth. But has the party won the argument,

The usual trend in by-elections favours the party in power. Still, the PML-N governments both
in the province and at the centre left nothing to chance. They used every possible means, from
material incentives at public expense to governmental clout, to influence the outcome. Even
the Prime Minister could not hold himself back from direct involvement in the election campaign.
Violating the ECP's code of conduct, he addressed a news conference after the close of campaign
time to highlight what he thinks are his government's achievements, and later embarked on a
drive-by tour of the constituency. The PTI challenger, Abdul Aleem Khan, tried to make up for
what his side lacked in terms of offering governmental largesse by liberally spending his immense
personal wealth to woo voters.

By the end of it all, the ruling party candidate managed to win by a margin of mere 2,400 votes
while Imran had lost the same seat by nearly nine thousand votes. In other words, Aleem fared
better than his party leader- in fact a lot better considering the usual trend in such situations.
Let's recall some examples. In NA-1 Peshawar during the May 2013 general elections Imran
Khan defeated a senior ANP leader, Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, by 66,000 votes. After he vacated
the seat along with NA-71 to retain the Rawalpindi one, Bilour roundly trounced the PTI
replacement candidate in the by-election. Similarly in NA-71 Mianwali, Imran had secured 133,
224 votes. Yet in the by-election for the same seat the PTI candidate received only 70,885
votes as against his Nawaz League opponent's 85,836 votes. It is also worthwhile to recall that
back in'88, PPP leader Benazir Bhutto while contesting from multiple seats defeated a right
wing alliance, IJI, candidate Mian Umer Hayat in NA-94 Lahore (then part of the present-day
NA-122) by a wide margin only to see in the follow-up polls her party's Muhammad Rafi lose
to Hayat. These examples show the people respond very differently to major political figures
and in choosing replacement candidates in by-elections. Imran therefore is not so unjustified
in staying stuck to his position vis-à-vis his own showing in the last election.

Nevertheless, all interested must have heaved a sigh of relief on hearing the result. For winning
NA-122 could have sent Imran back into agitational mode to claim vindication of his position
that the 2013 elections were a fraud and the assemblies produced by them fake, and call for
the Prime Minister to to stand down.

The Nawaz Leaguers can ridicule the PTI leader as much as they want with remarks like " this
time, there was no Iftikhar Chaudhry; no returning officers from the judiciary; no '35 punctures';
no Nadra; and the process was conducted under the full protection of the Pakistan Army." But
inside they have much to worry about. Aside from Aleem giving a tough fight to Ayaz, a modest
PTI candidate wrestled away PA-147 under NA-122 from a close relative of the PM. Similarly in
Okara, an independent candidate Riazul Haq Juj who was denied the PML-N ticket rubbed the
party candidate Ali Arif Chaudhry's nose in the dirt defeating him by a huge margin. PTI too
suffered a big embarrassment in Okara for its choice of candidate Ashraf Khan Sohna, a new
entrant in the party who was awarded party ticket in preference over old loyalists. Annoyed
local party leaders and sympathisers supported Juj. Sohna lost so badly with just 7100 votes
that he had to face the ultimate humiliation for any candidate: confiscation of security money.
Sadly for it, the PPP's candidates are nowhere in the reckoning. They deserve credit though for
bravely entering the contest knowing full well what lay in store for them and yet participating
to register the party's presence in the province.

By voting the way they did the people have rejected, aside from the Sharif brothers arrogant
style of functioning, two common notions: one, that Lahore belongs to the PML-N; second,
that Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif's model of development based on high-cost, flashy
schemes like the metro bus, signal-free roads, and fancy roundabouts wins hearts and minds.
Lahore, like the rest of Pakistan, belongs to ordinary people who are interested in plans and
policies aimed at bringing about qualitative improvement in their lives. More than anything
else they need better educational and health care facilities, clean drinking water, jobs, shelter,
and of course an efficient rather than a showy public transportation system.

Lahore, indeed majority of Punjab, was a PPP stronghold in the '70s, late '80s and early '90s
because of its socio-economic uplift programme. After the party disappointed them, the voters
gradually started shifting to the PML-N. Now the signs are of a growing dissatisfaction with
the Sharifs as well, and a desire for an alternative which can deliver progress and prosperity to
the ruled rather than the rulers. If the next general elections are held in as fair and transparent
a manner as the by-elections in Lahore and Okara, we can expect to see results not too different
from the ones the voters delivered last Sunday.


Source: http://fp.brecorder.com/2015/10/201510151236518/

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