Message from the Masses

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M Alam Brohi

A half-empty and dysfunctional parliament provide no guarantee against the derailment of the besieged political system

The by-elections of October 16 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. The message strongly reflects the popular stamp on his demand for general elections.
The by-elections have inflicted the second crippling setback on the PDM after its massive electoral loss in the by-elections of July 22, 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 parties in their traditional electoral bases. These constituencies were deliberately chosen by the Speaker’s Secretariat 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, the PDM 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.
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 Aiman Wali Khan in Peshawar and Charsada 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 PML-N 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 1200 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. She lost to Brigadier Aijaz Shah of PTI by 2500 votes in 2018. The TLP and PPP had polled 49000 and 18700 votes respectively in the contest. Both seats were considered secure.
The NA-157 Multan has a substantial vote bank of Gilani Syeds, Makhdooms and PML-N. In 2018, there was a three-way contest between Zain Qureshi of PTI, Moosa Gilani of PPPP and Malik Abdul Ghaffar Dogar of PMLn. Zain Qureshi won the seat by polling 77,000 votes with Moosa Gilani trailing closely by a vote count of some 70,000. Mr 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 PML-N. In 2018, he lost the seat by 2200 votes to Jamil Ahmed of PTI. The Zain ul Abdin of PML-N had polled 14000 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 68000 votes; falling short of 1000 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.
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. The long march, given the charged atmosphere, 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 spelt 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 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.