ALLEGATIONS of rigging levelled by some political parties aside, a look at the region-wise performance of national as well as regional political parties, reflects that there is nothing unexpected or unexplainable in the 2018 general election results. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has gained more seats in the National Assembly (NA) due to its improved performance in KP, North and South Punjab and Karachi Division. Except Karachi, majority of NA seats, PTI won in the 2013 general election were from these regions. The reasons for the improved performance of PTI in KP are quite obvious. The two major parties of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam of Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman (JUI F) and Awami National Party of Isfandyar Wali (ANP) haven’t won simple majority in KP, even once. After the 1970 general election, these two parties were able to form a coalition government in the province with the support of other minor parties and independent members of the Provincial Assembly (PA).
Though JUI (F) and ANP have reasonable vote bank in the southern and northern regions of KP, JUI (F) ruled the province from 2003 to 2008 as the major partner of the alliance of a number of religious parties, namely Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). ANP also ruled the province for five years after the 2008 election with the support of PPP. The history of elections in Pakistan shows that KP is the only province where the voters take into consideration the past performance and conduct of a political party and its candidates while voting in the election. They voted for ANP and PPP in 2008 because of miserable performance of MMA from 2003 to 2008 that was marked by corruption scams, nepotism, etc. They voted for PTI of Imran Khan, a non-Pashto speaking ethnic Pakhtun, due to unprecedented corruption and plunder during the ANP rule from 2008 to 2013.
For the first time in the history of KP, the people have voted for a party for two consecutive terms. In addition to relatively better performance of PTI government and non-appearance of a major corruption scam from 2013 to 2018, the credit for overwhelming victory of Imran Khan’s party in KP goes to Maulana Fazal Ur Rehman. From 1988 onwards, Maulana, like Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), has been the ally of the ruling party. JUI (F) and MQM are the only two parties which were the partners of PML (Q), PPP and PML (N) governments from 2003 to 2018. Another common practice of these two parties is that while being in government, they like to act as the opposition, as well. Due to the three uninterrupted elections in Pakistan from 2003 to 2018, the voters seem to have become clever enough to understand such tricks of JUI (F) and MQM.
Another region where PTI has gained is the North Punjab or the Potohar region. Other than the Chaudhry Nisar and Tahir Sadiq factor, PML (N) narrative seems to have made the difference. Surprisingly, the effects of PML (N) narrative have not been very pronounced in the central Punjab. The selection of suitable candidates, support of businessman communities (belonging to Kashmiri, Sheikh, Arayn, Jatt, baradris) and development works completed by Shehbaz Sharif helped PML (N) achieve exceptional success in the central Punjab. PML (N) suffered because of its narrative in the North Punjab. In the Potohar region a couple of members of almost every family are serving in the Armed Forces. Another factor for the failure of PTI in the central Punjab was the grant of party tickets to the turncoats of both PPP and PML (N). The reasons for gains of PTI in the South Punjab are too obvious to explain. The region has never been a stronghold of PML (N). A number of NA members, who joined PML (N) after winning their seats as independent candidates in the 2013 election, joined PTI a few weeks before the election. The commitment given by PTI to make the South Punjab a new province also went in its favour. Moreover, most of the stalwarts of PTI, like Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jahangir Tareen belong to the South Punjab. Even Imran Khan’s home constituency is located in the Saraiki Belt. In the interior Sindh, despite lesser number of votes it obtained, PPP won more seats than its tally in the last election. The Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) besides a number of heavyweights, had the support of both the right wing and left wing parties (including the Sindhi nationalists), failed to dent PPP’s popularity in the interior Sindh. If PTI and GDA joined hands in the interior Sindh, they could pose a serious challenge to PPP.
In Karachi PTI won more seats of National as well as Provincial Assemblies than any other party. Despite its triumph in Karachi, PTI cannot be considered the most popular party of Karachi, for two reasons. Firstly, overall turnout of voters and the total number of votes, bagged by PTI, are too less for a party to claim that it represents the most populous city of Pakistan (PTI bagged 1.40 million votes in the city of nearly 20.50 million people). Secondly, more than the popularity PTI, the plight of MQM accounted for its success in Karachi. After the Sindh Rangers’ operation against its military wing, MQM had become utterly toothless. Altaf Hussain had also been craftily and tactfully made irrelevant in the politics of rural Sindh by the Establishment due to his anti-Pakistan activities. Before the election, MQM was completely fractioned, and in a state of disarray and indecisiveness. In the absence of a more suitable choice, the educated Urdu-speaking population, along with the Punjabi and Pakhtun voters opted to vote for PTI for a change for the first time after 1988 election. The support of media houses, legendry sportsmen, singers and TV artistes also proved to be handy for PTI. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf could do better if it avoided few errors of omission as well as commission. It could win more seats in the central Punjab by effectively exploiting Nawaz Sharif’s narrative, and by not awarding party tickets to the turncoats of PPP and PML (N). The party had the potential to win a couple of seats from the interior Sindh if it made some seat adjustments with GDA.
— The writer a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.