IRSHAD SALIM (February 14, 2018) — Both leaders are in shock and awe with Lodhran by-poll results–for same reasons– each did not expect what the voters handed out to their party candidate: Khan’s, a defeat and Sharif’s, the win.
The Monday contest in southern Punjab is the last one before national and provincial elections this summer. Whoever wins the most seat in the largest province of the counntry will obviously form the government in the center. Same holds true for the provincial government where Sharif’s younger brother Shahbaz rules. And, if the Lodhran results are considered even partial representation of what could be coming in summer, Khan and his dream-team ought to be worried.
The ruling party (PML-N) has been performing well in the province for a decade now– mostly fueled by a mix of populist activities and giveaways, business and investor friendly moves, and handouts.
Resultantly, their strong hold makes the province Sharifs’ and PML-Ns bastion of power– to ensure a smooth ride to the center and naturally in the province in the coming elections– a strategy which has worked for them well but much to the dismay of others: Imran Khan and his PTI party and Asif Ali Zardari and his PPP party.
Theoretically, even if Khan wins in all other three provinces, it would be tough-luck for him and his party (and Zardari), unless miracles happen, or deconstruction and reconstruction of the system and the processes are fast-tracked at a very high cost.
Notwithstanding Khan’s success to-date with judicial fights against Nawaz, his battlecry for justice, corrupt-free system, transparency, accountability, good governance, etc., may resonate among the motley crowd of educated and the millennials in the urban cities of the country, but in the Sharifs happy hunting ground, and even in the rest of the country, these are considered distractions, “cacophony” reinforced by the popular oft-repeated “sab chalta hai” narrative . Up against these odds, relentless Khan continues not to wink first though– it has nonetheless brought him to a position of strength much better than his party’s performance in 2013 polls. That may not be enough though to take him over the speed-bumps.
As for Nawaz Sharif, the former ousted prime minister celebrated his party’s win in the by-poll and says people are fighting his case; that, it was an answer to false cases and ‘the revenge in the name of accountability’. The ousted three-time prime minister says people living in cities and villages “have now understood the concept of sanctity of vote”. For him, it’s popular vote versus rest of the trappings in project democracy. Notwithstanding his gripes and a grim-reaper’s soundbites, his brother’s performance in Punjab puts PML-N in a formidable position against a vulnerable Khan’s PTI in the Sharif’s fortress.
Bilal Lakhani writes: “Imran Khan is at his best when he’s the underdog in a competition. After the PTI’s shocking defeat in Lodhran, the party’s momentum is nosediving ahead of the general elections. However, this could be the shock upset, which may finally inspire Imran to get his mojo back, if he learns the right lessons.
“It is now abundantly clear that Imran is a terrible politician. Perhaps Imran is as good a politician as Nawaz would be a cricketer. Despite Imran’s apparent weaknesses, he has delivered extraordinarily well as an unrelenting opposition leader. He has kept the ruling party and all other parties on their toes as he single-mindedly pursued an agenda of transparency and anti-corruption. Arguably, he is the best opposition leader, Pakistan has ever seen.
“While this appears insufficient to win votes without visibly delivering in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Imran can still be credited for breathing political life into a generation of Pakistanis who were disillusioned with the system. Now he needs to win his own voters back.” (Excerpts from Bilal Lakhani’s article in the Express Tribune)
DAWN says: “FORMER prime minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has reason to revel in the PML-N’s victory over arch-rival PTI in Lodhran, the last by-poll before the next general election. An ex-prime minister who has been persistent in demanding the reasons for his ouster can justifiably see this as a popular verdict: evidently, the people are still willing to vote for Mian Sahib’s candidates, and in big numbers.
“It was a huge defeat for the PTI, that many believed was at the peak of its popularity. Some experts are now debating how the familiar Sharif bandwagon can be stopped from sweeping the home province again in the next general election — the Lodhran result has certainly left the PTI with a lot of worries.
“There is no doubt that the PTI candidate, the young Ali Tareen, got a huge number of votes in the NA-154 contest, but already senior PTI leaders have acknowledged that complacency was one of the factors which denied them a win.
“This shows that the PTI, like other formidable opponents of the PML-N in the past, has failed to realize just how good the Sharif machinery can be on polling day. In Lodhran on Monday, it was an ambush that, too, had been quietly prepared, even as the PTI went around receiving congratulations over the ‘victory’ it was anticipating. There were erroneous tales that projected NA-154 as a Tareen constituency. The fact is that Jahangir Tareen first contested this seat in 2013. He lost then, securing the seat in a by-election later. This hardly made it a hereditary safe seat for his son Ali Tareen and did not justify the confidence of those predicting a PTI walkover.
“The overconfidence has dealt the PTI a blow which can have serious consequences not just in southern Punjab but all over the province — in fact across the country. Mr Tareen has long been seen as Imran Khan’s number two man. He remained a stalwart with influence despite the ban on his contesting the polls. In the aftermath of the Tareen failure to retain this seat, severe doubt has been cast on the worth of Mr Khan’s lieutenants. Can Mr Khan take on the might of the Sharif juggernaut on his own? This is a sign that, short of some divine help, the PTI chief is going to have a very tough time living up to his billing as the alternative.” (Excerpts from Dawn editorial).