Winning Punjab | Pakistan Today

Winning Punjab

Does PTI have the numbers to pull it off?

Campaigning for the next general election, scheduled to take place later next month, has already entered a crucial stage. For all major mainstream political parties, it’s time to announce their candidates: it not only undercuts looming confusions about the awarding of tickets but also offers adequate time to candidates to file nomination papers and prepare for their respective campaigns.

So far, the analysis of the ticket holders confirmed by the PTI and the ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, reveal that the contest between these two major political rivals in terms is going to be strong, particularly in Punjab. Let’s look at some of the analytics from Punjab which is by and large going to decide which party makes to the capital after July 25.

PTI’s nominees in Lahore’s 13 National Assembly seats are people which have already contested election from the district. There are no big new names which can be considered a challenge for the ruling party in Lahore. Imran Khan’s decision to contest elections from Khawaja Saad Rafique’s home constituency in Lahore is surprising yet understandable as the party still lacks candidates that can challenge rival political heavy weights such as Rafique. Among other things, it shows the lack of confidence in PTI’s ranks that the party doesn’t consider anyone else worthy enough to challenge PML-N’s strongmen even after a vicious and brutal campaign to destroy the ruling party’s electoral and governance narrative. In Lahore, the lineup of the ruling party is strong with party’s fielding local names that are imbedded in the indigenous community, businesses and interests. It’s going to be tough for the PTI to topple PML-N in Lahore.

This time around PTI’s policy of awarding tickets has significantly changed. The party has managed to attract a number of big names who are defectors from other mainstream political parties that not only have brought their own vote bank and electability but have also attracted the support of PTI’s own vote bank

A quick review of the PTI’s nominees in Northern Punjab reveals a very interesting trend with regards to the previous general election. Back then the PTI was struggling to find candidates who could challenge the PML-N’s lineup in Northern Punjab, a region which has remained one of the strongholds of the ruling party in the province for many years. While awarding tickets in 2013 PTI’s priority was not to choose only the big names still the National Assembly positions were filled. This time around PTI’s policy of awarding tickets has significantly changed. The party has managed to attract a number of big names who are defectors from other mainstream political parties that not only have brought their own vote bank and electability but have also attracted the support of PTI’s own vote bank. This puts the party in a relatively better position to challenge the ruling party in Northern Punjab. A number of PTI’s candidates in Northern Punjab are neither the party’s workers nor political loyalists that have remained with the party for years. Rather, the awardees are highly electable. Therefore, it follows that the competition in Northern Punjab is going to be tough with local patronage, class and political associations colliding in a fierce struggle to win the election.

However, the ruling party still has a big leeway in terms of putting together a lineup of candidates who have traditionally won elections for the party. As it appears, the PTI may have hoped to chop off a few more such candidates from the ruling party. However, it has not been the case: with the PTI announcing its official candidates in Punjab, the ruling party can hope to put an end to defections which could have continued. Khan’s decision to award tickets to outsiders rather than the party’s own stalwarts’ in a number of constituencies in Punjab shows that PTI’s focus is purely on electoral gains – and losses – rather than the party workers or fielding ideological loyalists regardless of their electoral footprint.

However, the challenge this time may be in terms of losing enough seats to PTI in Punjab which can end up harming PML-N’s hopes to formulate an ‘easily negotiated government’ after the elections. Among other factors, the challenge also comes from South Punjab region which has seen the ruling party’s traditional support base merging into Khan’s party. Again, it’s unclear whether defectors of the ruling party can win all seats for the PTI in South Punjab, any seats going to Khan’s party only weakens PML-N’s traditional strength, thus making it difficult for the latter when it comes to the post-elections scenarios in terms of formulating the government.

The contest between the PTI and PML-N in Punjab is going to be fierce but the likely results appear to point toward a difficult period in the post-election season.

Umair Jamal

Umair Jamal is a graduate of the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. He is a research fellow with the Centre for Governance and Policy. He regularly writes for various media outlets. He can be contacted on Twitter: @UJAmaLs.



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