Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has recently suffered a shock defeat in the first phase of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Local Government Elections, a province that has been considered as its political fortress since 2013. Reactions over electronic & social media are hovering at extreme levels of PTI moving rapidly towards its political death. I feel that this is a very premature analysis but it cannot be denied that Imran Khan PTI has suffered a major blow & must take some drastic actions to revive its fortunes.
First of all, we need to examine why this narrative of PTI being history is flawed at the present time. If we analyze the results of KP local government elections held on 19th December 2021, PTI still managed to get the highest number of votes across all tehsils. PTI vote count was 913k & slightly ahead of JUIF (906k). This means that PTI is not necessarily a party that has been wiped out of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It proves that PTI has just suffered a bloody nose. If you consider reports of internal PTI rivalries on display in recent local government elections (rival PTI candidates contesting as independents or supporting rival parties), it means that PTI primarily needs to get its house in order & they can (mathematically) bounce back with a bang in 2023 to continue ruling KP.
The common trend in PTI
Furthermore, a cursory look at PTI’s history ever since it became a mainstream party shows one common trend: PTI even today is primarily a movement with a vision for justice & it still has not matured into a “well-oiled” electoral machine. PTI has a shabby record when it comes to contesting by-elections & local government elections. However, PTI produced impressive performances in GE 2013 (winning KP as a nascent mainstream party) & GE 2018 (national victory). Even in the 2015 KP local government elections, PTI “barely” emerged as the single largest party. The 2015 LG result gave no serious indicator that PTI will be sweeping 2018 General Elections from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with record margins.
However, there is one major difference between past scenarios & the current era. PTI now is the ruling party of Pakistan & when you are the ruling party, you must be prepared to deal with the anti-incumbency vote factor. This is a global challenge for ruling parties & PTI will inevitably go through the same grind. Since the scenario for PTI in 2022 is very different from the pre-2018 era, so the solution for PTI to maintain its hold on power should also be constructed with a radically different approach.
In my humble opinion, the approach that PTI leadership should take for the rest of its term is as follows:-
- Recently, Imran Khan dissolved all PTI organizations across the country. I believe that this is a necessary step but now it is critical for PTI to embrace or at least listen to its toughest intra-party critics. As PTI Chairman, Imran Khan should not be surrounded with “Yes-men”. He needs to pay more attention to those who are well-wishers of PTI but also are not scared of constructive criticism. Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made the famous mistake of sidelining progressive PPP workers & his inner circle was full of feudal cronies who never cared to alert him of the actual on-ground political situation. So Bhutto went from a powerful national leader in 1972 to someone who was politically isolated by 1977.
- With PTI entering the final phase of its first tenure in power, it is critical for CM Usman Buzdar & CM Mehmood Khan to keep a razor-sharp focus on development projects. Both of them need to pick at least 1 more mega project & hold daily meetings to ensure that it’s fully completed before the 2023 elections. The megaprojects should be impressive enough to entice voters at the national level. These are critical milestones for PTI to leave a legacy behind for Pakistani voters.
- Pakistan’s top opposition parties are smelling blood. They will make all sorts of attempts to provoke PTI leadership & drag them into a war of words over mainstream media. Imran Khan must hold his nerve to ignore cheap shots by the opposition as election season comes close. He needs to build a chart of highly critical tasks that must be completed by the Prime Minister at all costs before the 2023 elections. Historically, it can be proven that Pakistani voters don’t really care about discourse over media. The PPP & PMLN vote banks are relevant even after decades of corruption scandals. The MQM vote bank stayed strong in Urban Sindh for almost 3 decades despite all talks about their militancy. A PTI voter can also be convinced to vote for PTI if he/she feels that the party is serious about resolving Pakistan’s deep-rooted issues.
- PTI needs to build a new narrative over the inflation issue. In recent weeks, PTI has relentlessly tried to pacify Pakistanis by using the point of “global inflation”. This narrative has failed to impress Pakistani voters & the longer PTI persists with it, the more humiliating will it get for them. I believe PTI’s new narrative should be more focused on tasks & timelines to resolve the inflation issue. Present a list of tasks to supporters that the Finance Ministry is working on to tackle inflation & link those tasks to a timeline so that PTI voters in past elections get a clear idea of how serious the government is to resolve arguably the biggest issue for the Pakistani nation.
The clock is ticking fast
The clock is ticking for PTI & if they don’t get their act together then accountability by Pakistani voters in 2023 can be very similar to what PPP suffered in the 1997 elections as it failed to form Sindh Government (PMLN ally Liaquat Ali Jatoi became CM Sindh) & won zero NA seats from Punjab. The PPP won 89 NA seats in 1993 & they nosedived to just 18 NA seats in 1997 after a disastrous term for Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.
Since 1977, no ruling party has ever won a general election in Pakistan & even 1977 was a highly controversial election that resulted in martial law after intense street protests over rigging against the then Bhutto administration.
PTI members & supporters have enjoyed the thrill of power but will things ever be the same again? It’s the final countdown.
The writer is an IT Consultant by profession but he also retains a deep interest in following politics, cricket & football. He tweets at @naveednadeem91. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.