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Imran Khan and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) are feeling extremely chuffed at his winning six of the seven National Assembly (NA) seats he stood on in the by-elections held on October 16, 2022. And despite the (usual) charges of ‘rigging’, they do not seem too perturbed at the loss of two NA seats that they held previously.

On the other hand, most of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition parties have been left red-faced for their lacklustre showing in failing to win even a single NA seat. These worthies include the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) and the Awami National Party (ANP). The exception to this ‘honour roll’ is the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which has managed to wrest two NA seats, one against Imran Khan in Karachi, the other against the PTI in Multan.

The ANP’s Ghulam Ahmed Bilour has proclaimed that he will challenge his loss by 25,000 votes to Imran Khan in Peshawar NA-31. He claims it was the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) that helped defeat him through foul means. Bilour garnered 32,252 votes to Imran Khan’s 57,814. The turnout in this constituency was 20.28 percent, a low figure typical of by-elections generally, and these by-elections too. No other losing PDM candidate has challenged the results.

Imran Khan won by 76,681 votes to JUI-F’s Maulana Qasim’s 68,181 from Mardan NA-22. The turnout was a comparatively better 32.9 percent. In Karachi’s Malir NA-237, Imran Khan suffered his only loss to the PPP’s Abdul Hakim Baloch by 32,567 votes to 22,493 with a turnout of 20 percent. In the same city’s Korangi NA-239, Imran Khan defeated the MQM-P’s Syed Nayyar Raza by 50,104 votes to 18,116. With an even lower turnout of 14.8 percent, the result in this constituency reflects the decline of MQM-P in both mobilising voters as well as obtaining their support.

Imran Khan also won in Faisalabad NA-108, defeating the PML-N’s Abid Sher Ali by 99,841 votes to 75,226, and the PML-N’s Shezra Mansab Ali Khan Kharal by 90,180 votes to 78,024 in Nankana Sahib NA-118.

In a battle of heirs apparent, the PPP’s Ali Musa Gilani, son of former Prime Minister and currently Senate Leader of the Opposition Yousaf Raza Gilani, defeated the PTI’s Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s daughter Meher Bano Qureshi by a margin of 107,327 votes to 82,141. Imran Khan refrained from contesting this seat, no doubt in deference to Shah Mahmood’s desire to secure the seat for his family and heirs.

However, this reversal gave the PPP something to celebrate, given that this was the first Punjab NA seat they had won in four years, and only the second Punjab one in the last 10 years. How far this single victory will help in reviving the once mighty PPP’s fortunes in Punjab, only time will tell, but it does seem a long way to go yet to restore the PPP’s once unassailable hold on Punjab.

Speaking of holds on Punjab, the once immovable PML-N in the province came out looking rather lame on the NA front, while only managing to win one seat out of the three being contested for the Punjab Provincial Assembly. Although in the aftermath of this underwhelming performance the PML-N has been busy dishing out its mea culpa, the outcome has not pleased PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif in London.

The usual post-polling charges and counter-charges of ‘rigging’ aside, the by-elections were by and large peaceful except for a few clashes between the rival parties in Karachi, Khanewal, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad and Peshawar. The heavy security forces deployment managed to scotch such violence fairly quickly and easily, and made a few arrests. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has firmly rebutted all suggestion of ‘rigging’ no matter from where it has emanated, but particularly the PTI’s claims, which appear strange considering their ‘triumph’.

On the basis of these by-election results, is the post-polling ‘triumphalism’ of the PTI justified? A few considerations must be kept in view. One, by-elections normally produce low turnouts, rendering them an unreliable barometer of the electorate’s overall mood, both in individual constituencies as well as the country as a whole. So too much should not be read into the PTI’s wins.

Second, given that Imran Khan ran on seven out of the eight NA seats being contested, and despite his strong showing in winning six out of the seven he stood in, does it not colour the PTI as a ‘one-man show’? In a sense Imran Khan’s victories are logical and to be expected since his opponents, veteran and new, did not enjoy the same high profile as him, especially in the light of his relentless pursuit of the rally trail since being ousted from power. To that extent the PTI’s satisfaction if not triumphalism may be justified, since it points in the direction of the PTI winning the battle of narratives. But on the other hand, as admitted by Rana Sanaullah, the PML-N was unable to mount a cohesive, effective election campaign in any constituency it was contesting. The losing PML-N

candidates for these seats have attempted to shift the blame onto Maryam Nawaz’s departure to London instead of being available to lead the campaigning. So on the one hand we appear to have the one-man show of Imran Khan, and on the other the one woman show of the PML-N. Somewhat pathetic, is it not?

It may be recalled that these by-elections were triggered by the acceptance of nine PTI MNAs’ resignations by the Speaker of the National Assembly, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, out of the entire mass resignations submitted by the PTI MNAs following the defeat of Imran Khan in the no-confidence motion.

The PTI seems to have set aside its irritation at this ‘selective’ acceptance of its MNAs’ resignations and decided to turn the tables on the government by fielding their trump card, Imran Khan, on seven vacant seats. Victory aside, the PTI may have to go back to the drawing board once Imran Khan has to surrender five of the six seats he has won, a prospect that invites a better organised campaign and showing by the PML-N if it hopes to generate some momentum to win back its erstwhile stronghold Punjab.

Despite the ‘feel good’ of PTI’s victory, the government is still not buying into the former’s demand for immediate general elections. That implies the PTI twisting in the wind till at least August 2023, while the PML-N and its PDM coalition allies will have to get their act together to combat what appears to be Imran Khan’s political momentum.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

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