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EDITORIAL: Two things immediately stand out about the KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) local government elections. One, since the ruling PTI is responsible for security, more so in election season, PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) must take the blame for incidents of violence that took five lives on Sunday, including the suicide bombing in Bajaur, abduction of polling staff in Bannu, violent clashes in Karak, and the mob attack on Federal Minister Shibli Faraz near Dara Adam Khel, which portions of the press are calling an assassination attempt. And two, they provide further evidence, if some was still needed, that PTI’s popularity is dropping; especially in a province where it made history by not just retaining the provincial government but also coming back with a larger majority. In 2018, PTI swept all 17 districts where local government elections are being held presently, yet now it is the combined opposition that is in the lead; which speaks of growing discontent at the grassroots.

The main reason is that, contrary to what the government or even other political parties might think, the people understand very well that the 18th Amendment made price control a provincial subject. Therefore, however, much the centre comes to their aid by putting the spotlight on previous administrations, mafias, or even international commodity prices, most commonfolk are aware that they pay more for their necessities than people in neighbouring countries, regardless of international price trends, because of the incompetence of provincial administrations in Pakistan; including their irritating habit of blaming others for their oversights and negligence. Perhaps PTI, which has had its hand on the pulse of KP for more than eight years now, could see the dissatisfaction simmering for some time, which might explain it did whatever it could to delay these elections as much as possible. And when it was forced to bend to the judiciary’s verdict, it initially lobbied for non-party polls, and only fell in line when it was forced to.

That is why Information Minister Fawad Chaudhary’s attempt to clinch victory from the jaws of defeat, so to speak, by implying that “only Imran Khan has fulfilled the promise of a strong local government and held fair elections” cannot be taken at face value and implies that the party would still rather dodge the facts, even as they stare it squarely in the face, than accept the failure of at least some of its policies. His claim that “an empowered system was being established in Punjab as well” was just as hollow because there too the ruling party has quite literally been forced to show respect for local bodies by the honourable court. And, going by the results of recent by-elections and local government polls, its chances don’t seem much brighter in Punjab either.

If only the PTI high command would wake up and smell the coffee it would realise that even its best laid plans have gone horribly off course. That its popularity is dipping in this way in KP ought to ring serious alarm bells all the way from Peshawar to Islamabad. Yet it has got so used to dismissing everything that goes wrong as somebody else’s fault that it is unable to snap out of this habit even when its own political capital is at risk. Such an approach would be fine if the government and opposition were the only players. But when the people see that their elected representatives are no longer responsive to their most pressing needs, and instead continue to advance excuses that border on the absurd, they are left with no option but to exercise the power of their vote.

The KP local body election could well be the last wake-up call for PTI. Its formula of relying on political turncoats, shuffling senior ministerial and bureaucratic posts at the drop of a hat, and wishing the economy into high growth mode has clearly not worked. To top it all, it throws a fit whenever its failings are highlighted by the opposition, press or the people. In short, it continues to behave like an opposition party even after more than three years in government in the centre and Punjab, and eight years in KP. The people, for their part, have raised one red flag after the other whenever they have gone to vote in the last year or so. If the government still can’t read the writing on the wall, it will have only itself to blame for it.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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