The ‘unexpected’ victory of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf in the all-important Punjab by-polls is the outcome of the unpopular political and economic decisions taken by Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz., who continued the trend of inflation and blamed PTI for their own decisions.
This victory in by-elections to 20 seats of Punjab Assembly which is held in largely peaceful manner has sent alarming bells for Shehbaz Sharif’s federal government while also sealed the fate of Hamza Shahbaz’s government in Punjab making it very clear that the support of common people and majority voters is in favour of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Moreover, the alliance of PTI with PML-Q has crossed the number of 186 to form its government in Punjab which was previously 173 before the by-election.
All the seats the PTI claimed on July 17 either directly belonged to the party or were won by the independents who later joined it during the government formation process. Imran Khan had led thriving campaign against the ones who ditched his party to vote for Hamza Shehbaz on April 16. He also blamed the establishment for siding with PML-N, PPP and other parties, as he wanted support for the ‘conspiracy’ against him with ‘United States’ to remove him from his seat before the completion of his tenure.
However, those who has been observing the whole scenario state that the rising inflation had a bigger hand in this turnover of elections rather than Khan’s campaigns, because inflation had been the weakest point of PTI and had been repeatedly targeted by then opposition of PML-N, who claimed to end this inflation once in power but couldn’t manage the economy well after taking the reigns of country in hand. “People had hoped that the PML-N government would provide them relief from the ‘wrong’ economic decisions taken by the PTI government. But, instead, the Shehbaz government aggravated their economic affliction by blindly following the IMF,” says Dr Amjad Magsi of the South Asia Study Centre of the Punjab University. “The present rulers popularised Imran Khan’s narrative by taking the anti-masses, unpopular decisions and that too after weeks of confusion and reluctance that accelerated the economic meltdown. Politically, it was more suited for them to go for new elections soon after Khan’s ouster from power rather than owning the unpopular decisions of the last PTI government,” he explains.
Senior columnist Imtiaz Alam says the declining economic conditions had an impact on state of mindset of the voters however it is fundamentally a decision against the turncoats whom the PML-N embraced. Dr Magsi says unlike the PTI which was clear in its target, there was a confusion and division in the PML-N ranks about the backing of the former PTI MPAs given party tickets for the by-polls. Sensing this division, the PML-N high command had warned that the district and divisional leaderships would be ousted in case of defeat in their respective areas.
This victory had been shocking for many who had been least expecting it. Prof Rashid Ahmed Khan says the impact of the by-polls result will not remain confined to Punjab only but it will also influence the Shehbaz government in Islamabad. “With three provinces out of control of Islamabad and the fourth, Sindh, in the grip of ally PPP, the central government will have very limited space to work. It may not sustain pressure for long from three anti-centre provincial governments and will have to bow out of the power corridors. Particularly if the three provincial assemblies are dissolved, the general election will become inevitable,” he says.
To prevent further chaos in the country, Mr Alam suggests that Hamza should accept defeat by resigning as chief minister, while Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif summon an all-party conference and a session of parliament to decide the schedule for general election.