The unexpected re-election of Hamza Shehbaz as chief minister of Punjab on July 22 added another surprise to the politics of surprises in Pakistan. The political atmosphere in the provincial assembly became tense when PML-Q Chairperson Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain surprised everyone by sending a letter to Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Dost Muhammad Mazari distancing his party from PML-Q’s member – backed by the PTI – Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi’s candidacy.
How did the political circumstances change at the last movement even after the assembly’s session was begun? Undoubtedly, PPP Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari’s masterstroke changed the game, intensifying the recent covert turning overt family-split of the all-time winning Chaudhrys of Gujrat.
Having said that, the recent political circus in Punjab has been making headlines since the July 17 by-polls where the PML-N was faced with a shocking defeat at the hands of the PTI. The by-polls in Punjab had been apparently significant for the rival political parties merely to the extent of government formation in the province; however, their results turned the tables around, challenging the coalition government in the federal, the PML-N as a political party in particular.
Notwithstanding the PML-Q chief’s letter as a saviour for the PML-N in the chief minister’s election, the PTI’s landslide victory by clinching 15 out of 20 seats in the by-elections remains a bigger challenge for the PML-N at the mass-level.
Soon after the by-polls, certain political pundits argued that the no-confidence motion against the PTI-led government in the centre was a wrong move while others opined that early elections would have played a significant role in bringing the country out of chaos. It is essential to dissect what happened in the entire political process during the vote of no-confidence and how the populist narrative-driven PTI aroused anger among the people against the coalition government, especially the PML-N.
On the one hand, the overthrow of the PTI-led government and the subsequent formation of coalition government in the centre by the PDM dampened the popular narrative and political slogans of the latter. They have had to face the brunt of economic failures of the previous government as well as show themselves as messiahs to the people. Despite foreseeing the upcoming economic woes, the PDM planned to de-seat Imran Khan and form its government. But why?
While this perspective of the PDM’s politics seemed myopic, circumstances would have been more complex had the then opposition not taken hard decisions. In the long term, all the lines of the PDM had been actually converging on the upcoming general elections in 2023. Keeping in view the apparently non-political side of the establishment, electoral reforms and the upcoming high-level appointment in November would have further darkened the future of the major opposition parties. This was the main dilemma which ultimately pushed the PDM towards the right side of the House. Soon after sitting on the treasury benches, they kept reiterating their purpose: electoral reforms and some other relevant tasks and then move towards general elections. Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has said this on various occasions.
However, the PML-N has undoubtedly become a scapegoat in the changing of seats giving a leverage to the PPP for the next general elections, which indicates that the mastermind of politics, Asif Zardari played really well.
The Shehbaz-led incumbent coalition government has been clueless and reluctant to take steps for the politico-economic betterment of the country. It was evident even before the by-polls that the PML-N had lost its vote bank because of its unpopular decisions, inflation, loadshedding, and more importantly, putting aside its anti-establishment narrative.
On the other hand, the ouster of the PTI-led government and the subsequent formation of coalition government in the centre by the PDM gave a new soul to the declining PTI in terms of a popular narrative and political slogans. Imran Khan making himself a victim of ‘foreign conspiracy’ has gathered much sympathy from the people on the ground.
Quite unexpectedly, the PTI has a strong comeback moving beyond its own assessment of success in the by-polls. Most expectedly, the popular slogan of ‘foreign conspiracy’ backed by the religion card sold very well in the religio-politically emotional society of Pakistan. Other contributing factors have been the public anger against ‘lotas’ and the subsequent selection of ideological electables by the party. Taking advantage of the circumstances, Imran Khan played very well on the ground by blaming the PDM for all the economic failures that had been caused by his government.
Nevertheless, the PTI’s success in the recent by-polls has implicitly put its politics of false narrative building on the stake. In the wake of the by-polls, the PTI leadership including its chairman has been continuously blaming the chief election commissioner (CEC) of biasness and rigging in the elections. As the result of a yet free and fair election comes, it vanishes away the reservations of the PTI on the CEC’s conduct. Now, the verdict of the PTI’s foreign funding case will not open any door for baseless criticism of the CEC.
It may be mentioned here that PMLN vice president Maryam Nawaz’s graceful acceptance of the results of the by-polls is in itself a win for democracy. In a tweet soon after the results became clearer, she said that her party should accept the results with an open heart and bow before people’s decision, adding that winning and losing is part of politics. She also advised her party to identify its weaknesses and work hard to remove the same.
Although the PML-N luckily (read: tactfully) regained the highest political office in the province, it still lacks political support at the ground – as evident from the by-polls’ results. While the party goes for introspection, it must look into its way of public conduct. Moving away from the politics of the 1990s, outdated political strategies and politics of the elites, it should invest in the youth, build an ideologically-motivated narrative, engage with the people at the grassroots level, and ensure an active widespread presence on social media to recover its vote bank. Indeed, the next general elections will define the future of all political parties but the condition is still the old one: free and fair elections.Qasim Khan, "Demystifying politics," The News. 2022-07-24.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political strategies , Elections , Imran Khan , Maryam Nawaz , Pakistan , PMLN , PMLQ , PTI