PMLN’s Strategy: The Next Phase

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While the PTI and friends continue to wallow in the defeat at the Punjab Cantonment Board’s elections, the PML-N has already embarked on the next phase of its strategy. That’s why supreme leader, Mian Nawaz Sharif, is now interacting with the party’s district-level leadership. Already, he has held video-link meetings with the DG Khan and Bahawalpur divisions. Everywhere, the “respect for vote” slogan is echoing louder than ever.
Now, the ruling party has been forced back to the drawing board as well. It was actually the rush to come up with a novelty of his own that forced the prime minister to visit Lahore for what was obviously a damage-control exercise. He also tried to influence the news flow by ordering Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to prepare for local body elections as soon as possible. That again goes to show how divorced the ruling party has become from the pulse of the people, who have clearly had it with the government’s habit of making tall claims and failing to back them on the ground.
Come to think of it, it’s only the PTI that’s surprised about the polls’ result. The opposition knew it. Most of them have been around for much longer than most of the PTI high command and are much better at reading the mood of the people. Reporters and “senior analysts” knew it. They’d been warning in newspaper articles and TV shows that this would be the first time in seven decades that the sitting Punjab government, especially one so loved by the establishment, would lose a local body election.
And you can be sure that the people knew it. Why else would they have voted in this way? Whenever we rubbed shoulders with the grassroots during our canvassing, we could see how helpless the lesser fortunate people of the country felt because life had suddenly become so impossibly unaffordable. Granted, a lot of them turned towards PTI before the last election. That was because of two major promises by that party; that everybody else had robbed and looted this country, so they would drag them to the courts and shake all the stolen wealth out of them. And that when they came, people would trust the government, taxes would start flooding in, foreign investment would come breaking down our doors, we’d pay back our debt in a couple of days, and everything would be hunky-dory.
But three years later, all that that the people got to see was practically all senior opposition politicians drowned in accusations, arrested, and incarcerated for months on end. However, not one case could be made and not one penny of the alleged stolen wealth was recovered. And the tax flood never really came. Foreign investment, too, has been heading out more than it’s been coming in since the PTI came. And don’t even talk about the out-of-control cost of living, from things as necessary as the staple food to luxuries that have to be imported. Inflation has been uncontrollably, and unjustifiably, high ever since PTI took over.
Yet every time anybody from the government speaks, you hear the same old promises: of recovering the stolen wealth, jailing everybody that came to power before them, and making the Pakistani economy the envy of the world. The people of the country have now started showing them, in the only way they can, that they didn’t give them their votes to hear the same speech, without anything to show for it, over and over and over again.
It also makes more sense now that the controversy about the Pakistan Media Development Authority (PMDA) erupted not long before the cantonment board election. People’s troubles had started making their way to the media, and the same party that once rode the media to the PM house and never tired of extolling the virtues of free media in a thriving democracy, etc, responded by trying to enforce what is being rightly called media martial law.
But while that particular controversy moves on, the ruling party has just come face-to-face with the awkward fact that even gagging the press cannot control, much less silence, the voice of the people. Because they speak through their votes. Just around the halfway mark, the people have started calling PTI’s bluff. So now they are bending over backwards to keep control of the narrative by silencing all voices that don’t agree with them through PMDA to hijack the next election; by trying to shove the electronic voting machines (EVMs) down everybody’s throats.
Try as they might, though, these initiatives will never see the light of day. The fight with the media industry has already started because all of it, in its entirety, has flatly and squarely rejected PMDA. Everybody, including the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), has thrown the EVM idea out the window. Therefore, no matter how controversial the government makes these issues, they will get knocked out of the scene when these matters reach the honourable courts.
Word is that PTI’s senior command, especially the PM, is very upset about the Punjab result. That’s quite understandable. But it doesn’t seem that they are keen on learning any lesson from this debacle. Instead of throwing a fit of anger and looking for heads to roll, their leadership would be better off understanding that their main strategy has failed and PML-N is alive and well in Punjab–the make-or-break province in the big election.
And this is just the beginning. People have just started showing that the spell that PTI cast over them to win the last election, helped by a lot of electoral fraud, has worn off. So, if anybody was shocked by the result, it was PTI. And it seems that counting on more such shocks all the way to 2023 is a very safe bet.
Now the pendulum will continue to swing PML-N’s way. Since Nawaz Sharif has initiated the next phase of the strategy for the 2023 general election, the pieces of the puzzle will slowly fall into place and propaganda about differences between the PML-N leadership will also wither away. This is where experience makes all the difference. This wasn’t the first time, after all, that PML-N in general and Nawaz Sharif, in particular, have been pushed against the wall. And it’s also not the first time that they’ve stood their ground, overcome the odds, and made a thundering return.Each phase of the strategy will become apparent as and when necessary. Till then, you can expect PTI loyalists to make yet more outrageous claims about the Sharifs. But now that the people have started separating facts from fiction for themselves, the ruling party might as well be talking to a wall.