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The message is clear

The voters sent a clear message to all the political forces involved in electoral politics through the NA-120 by-polls: mend your ways. If you are not interested in our issues, we are not interested in your politics. Around 60 percent of voters showed no interest in the by-election. Despite all the hype created by politicians and news studios about the polls, the voter turnout remained low.

An overwhelming majority of the electorate rejected the campaign based on allegations, counter-allegations, mudslinging, personal accusations, corruption and hatred. The real issues faced by the working class and the lower middle class were missing from the agenda. No party represented the wishes, aspirations, demands and expressions of the most exploited and repressed sections of society. This election was not contested on the issues of poverty, social and economic injustice, inequality, class exploitation, unemployment and hunger.

The fact is that this election was all about Nawaz Sharif. The real contest was not between the two female candidates. Instead, it was between Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif. The PTI, the PPP, the MML, the JI and the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLY) campaigned vigourously against Nawaz Sharif. The PML-N, the JUI-F and the JAH campaigned for him. The voters were equally divided. Half of the votes went to Nawaz Sharif while the other half went against him. He won because his opposition was bitterly divided.

Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that Nawaz Sharif is the new line of divide in Punjab. He is still a political force to reckon with. Bhutto remained line of divide for more than three decades. But Bhutto has already been elevated to the status of a political saint.

Two important steps will need to be taken to weaken or completely destroy the Nawaz Sharif factor. One is linked with a clear split within the Sharif family and involves Shahbaz Sharif and his associates breaking away. The million-dollar question is whether Shahbaz Sharif is ready to take this risk and test his own popularity at this stage.

The other step is the powers-that-be playing an assertive role and coming out of the shadows to sideline Nawaz Sharif. One thing is certain: the PTI cannot defeat the PML-N in Punjab without the active role and involvement of these elements that manipulations and manoeuvres from behind the scenes might not fully serve the purpose.

The message is loud and clear for the PML-N: nothing can be taken for granted. The PML-N lost 20,000 votes in this constituency. The independent, non-affiliated and undecided voters went over to the PML-N in the last two elections. From 1988 to 2002, the victory margin of the PML-N remained between 14,000 and 19,000 votes. In 2008, the votes rose to over 41,000. A majority of independent and undecided voters abstained and a small section of the extreme right-wing voters went over to the MML or the TLY.

It is worrying for the PML-N to lose these voters. Despite all the odds, it has maintained its traditional voters. Opponents have failed to make inroads into the PML-N’s hardcore vote banks. This is equally worrying for the PTI because it has failed to attract these voters. These voters are going to play an important role in the final outcome of the next general elections.

The message is clear that the PTI cannot win elections simply on the basis of its corruption narrative. The anti-corruption rhetoric is not enough to satisfy the large sections of working class, poor and lower middle class voters. This election has once again proved that Imran Khan’s popularity alone is not enough to win the elections. The PTI’s weak organisation and wrong political strategies have once again been exposed. The irony is that the PTI and Imran Khan have refused to learn and are bound to repeat their old mistakes.

This election posed serious questions for the PTI. It needs to think about why it failed to attract the independent and undecided voters and significantly increase its vote bank in an election that it contested under far more favourable conditions. Issuing contemptuous statements against all those who voted for the PML-N is not going to help the cause of the PTI. Such statements are counter-productive and can drive away potential voters.

The message is also clear for the PPP: it no longer has a choice for voters in Punjab. It cannot make a comeback with the existing policies and political strategy. The PPP needs to adopt a radical rhetoric and programme. The PPP needs new slogans and a strategy based on its original left-wing, radical, populist and socialist ideas. Without changing its course and adopting radical ideas and a sound programme, it is doomed to fail.

Faisal Mir ran a good campaign. The PPP was visible during the campaign. However, it has failed to attract and win back its traditional voters lost in recent years. The PPP needs to do something different to attract the working class, the middle and lower middle classes and the poor.

The only surprise in this election was the emergence of two extreme right-wing religious parties as the TLY and the MML-backed candidates surprisingly came third and fourth, respectively. The TLY got more than 7,000 votes and the MML secured nearly 6,000 votes. Both of them earned around 13,000 votes in total. This vote is six times more than the combined vote of the PPP and the JI. In 2013, the PPP, the JI, the JUI-F, the Sunni Tehreek and independent candidates secured around 6,000 votes. But this time, the votes of these parties increased to 15,000.

This signifies the growing influence of the extremist ideology in the political scene. Such extreme right-wing parties, groups and individuals could play the role of spoilers in the coming general elections. They could change the outcome of the closely-contested constituencies.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Khalid Bhatti, "The message is clear," The News. 2017-09-22.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political forces , Political parties , General elections , Corruption , Democracy , Politics , Nawaz Sharif , Imran Khan , PPP , PTI , PMLN

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