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EDITORIAL: It was widely seen as a risky move when PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan decided to stand as a candidate in by-polls to seven National Assembly seats out of the eight up for grabs against the PDM (Pakistan Democratic Movement) candidates in the high stakes by-elections held on Sunday.

In the event the gamble paid off as he won all but one seat, NA-237 Karachi, losing it to the PPP (Pakistan People’s Party). His party’s Meher Bano Qureshi also lost to PPP’s Musa Gilani on Multan NA seat.

While the PPP has much to be contended about for winning two out of the three seats it contested, the result is a serious setback for all major PDM parties. Khan gave JUI-F’s (Jamiat-e—Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl’s) Maulana Qasim run for his money in Mardan ((NA-22), and defeated ANP’s senior leader Ghulam Ahmad Bilour and the party’s provincial chief Aimal Wali Khan in Peshawar (NA-31) and Charsadda (NA-24), respectively.

He also thoroughly trounced MQM-P (Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan) in Karachi (NA-239). If losing Faisalabad (NA-108) and Nankana Sahib (NA-118)) to the PTI Chairman was not bad enough for the PML-N (Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz), in the by-polls to three Punjab Assembly seats it previously occupied the PTI walked away with two of them.

Both sides, of course, have their own explanations for the electoral outcome. According to the PDM sympathisers, it hardly holds any surprise since the PTI has retaken its own seats. PTI leaders and supporters describe it as a success of one party against the united front of 13 ruling alliance members while their opponents contend that the Khan’s decision to be the candidate on 7 out of the 8 National Assembly seats reflected his belief that any other candidate from his party may not be a certain winner.

More importantly, the PTI supporters argue, the people voted for the party despite knowing that it won’t go back to the assembly, terming its success as an endorsement of Imran Khan’s ‘imported government’ narrative as well as his demand for early fresh elections.

Some in the PML-N seem to be inadvertently accepting the PTI supporters’ claim that it is difficult to beat the ‘Imran brand’ as they have been contending that it was an unfair competition; had Mian Nawaz Sharif led the party campaign, the result would have been very different.

This line of thinking tends to ignore a significant factor that, too, affected the voters’ choice: the poor state of the economy that has made unbearable the cost of living for a vast majority of the people. It does not matter to them whether the PML-N is led by Shehbaz Sharif or the senior Sharif as long as they face economic hardships on a daily basis.

Right from the outset it was clear to impartial observers that by-elections at this point in time made no sense. Nonetheless, the ruling coalition selected seats for by-polls where the PTI had won by a very narrow margin, expecting to win them and strengthen its position in Parliament. But not only the outcome is opposite to their expectations, it is bound to create more complications.

As per election rules, Imran Khan can retain one seat and must vacate all others. In any case, his plan is not to return to the National Assembly. If and when new elections are held to the same seats, the result is unlikely to be any different.

The coming days will be tense as Khan is threatening to launch a long march on Islamabad any day, which will cause further political instability with further negative consequences for the national economy. Good sense suggests that both sides sit together and find a way out of this gridlock.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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