IT is indeed a moment of joy for Imran Khan and his followers. The PTI has won 15 out of 20 provincial seats that were up for grabs in Punjab. Its main rival in the province, the ruling PML-N, could secure only four seats.
Clearly, inflation-stricken voters facing long blackouts appear to have penalised the party for massively raising fuel and power prices for bailout money from the IMF to prop up the economy. But inflation wasn’t the only factor that helped the PTI win the Sunday by-polls. There were a host of other factors influencing the voters’ choice.
Credit must be given to Imran Khan for running an aggressive campaign — though one built on the flawed premise of a ‘foreign conspiracy’ — to remove his government ever since a no-confidence motion was moved against him. He also accused the military of siding with his opponents, and doing nothing to thwart the alleged conspiracy against his government. No matter how controversial his narrative, it resonated well with the voters, both in the urban and rural constituencies. The results underscore that the Imran Khan factor, which had prevailed in the 2018 election, has once more helped the PTI to massively sway the electorate, that turned out in record numbers to vote in its favour.
That is not all. The outcome also reflects growing public disaffection with politicians changing loyalty every now and then for personal gains. The PML-N might have felt ‘obliged’ to give the PTI defectors tickets in exchange for their votes in the election of chief minister. But the result confirmed that it had made a critical mistake as its decision led to resentment within the party and kept its supporters from turning out on polling day.
The politics and consequences of defections is something to be considered by every party going forward. With the coalition government expected to come under growing pressure for holding fresh polls to seek a mandate once the PTI recaptures Punjab in the run-off election for chief minister on July 22, as ordered by the Supreme Court, it is time for introspection by the PML-N leadership. The party needs to take a deep look at the factors that led to its surprise defeat despite hard campaigning by Maryam Nawaz, and decide if this is a temporary setback or a vote of no-confidence against it due to the tough economic decisions and compromises it chose to make.
Whether the PML-N decides to hold snap polls or complete its term, it might need Nawaz Sharif to return home to heal the divisions within the party and lead it from the front if it wants to win. Irrespective of the potential political and economic fallout of the by-polls, the event offers all parties, especially the PTI, an opportunity to consider more sober, issue-based politics rather than demonising every opponent and institution.