Na­tional pol­i­tics

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

PML-N's vic­tory in the Lodhran by-elec­tion seems to have al­tered the na­tional po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­lus. The by-elec­tion re­sult - the de­feat of Ja­hangir Ta­reen's son by a big mar­gin - proved al­most all po­lit­i­cal pun­dits wrong who had been pre­dict­ing a com­fort­able vic­tory for the PTI. The seat, which fell va­cant af­ter the PTI's Je­hangir Ta­reen was dis­qual­i­fied from hold­ing pub­lic of­fice by the Supreme Court, should have been eas­ily won by the party. But PTI com­mit­ted a se­ries of mis­takes of which the pri­mary one was nom­i­nat­ing Ta­reen's son Ali to con­test the seat. This was in nega­tion of the party's claims that tick­ets are awarded only on merit. Im­ran Khan has al­ways spo­ken strongly against the chil­dren of politi­cians in­her­it­ing seats and party po­si­tions. But in this case he ar­gued that Ali Ta­reen was the most de­serv­ing can­di­date, a fal­la­cious logic which re­sulted in the party los­ing the seat to the PML-N.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts have an­a­lyzed the Lodhran elec­tion re­sults in de­tail to iden­tify the fac­tors that caused the up­set. In their opin­ion, it is wrong to con­clude that the vic­tory has vin­di­cated Nawaz Sharif's nar­ra­tive against his dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to them, the re­sult in Lodhran can­not be de­clared as the voter's ver­dict against his dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion. The truth is that lo­cal fac­tors - and not any na­tional is­sues - played a big role in the fi­nal out­come of this elec­tion. Ac­cord­ing to me­dia ex­perts, above ev­ery­thing else, it is the Kanju fac­tor - in­stead of Nawaz Sharif's vic­tim nar­ra­tive - that swung the con­stituency in favour of PML-N. It is rel­e­vant to add here that the Sha­heed Kanju group had won all the na­tional and provin­cial assem­bly seats from Lodhran dis­trict in the 2013 gen­eral elec­tions, de­feat­ing both PLM-N and PTI. Later the Kanju group joined the PML-N, and one of its lead­ers, Ab­dul Rehman Kanju, now serves in the fed­eral cab­i­net as a state min­is­ter.

How­ever, tak­ing ad­van­tage of dis­sen­sions in the Kanju group, Ja­hangir Ta­reen was able to de­feat Sid­dique Baloch, the PML-N's can­di­date, in the 2015 by-elec­tion. But in the re­cent by-elec­tion Sid­dique Baloch, for per­sonal rea­sons, re­fused to con­test, paving the way for Pir Iqbal Shah's can­di­da­ture. The Kanju group, other in­flu­en­tial fig­ures, MPAs, lo­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tives and dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal fac­tions formed an al­liance against Ali Ta­reen and fully sup­ported Shah in the elec­tion. Lodhran is among the most back­ward dis­tricts of Pun­jab. Some ma­jor de­vel­op­ment works un­der­taken re­cently also helped the PML-N can­di­date.

But PTI is no less to blame for the Lodhran de­ba­cle. It made some tac­ti­cal blun­ders. For one thing, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports, Ja­hangir Ta­reen dis­ap­peared from Lodhran soon af­ter his win in 2015 and did lit­tle to serve the needs of his con­stituency dur­ing his ten­ure. For an­other, Ali Ta­reen, with his child-like ap­pear­ance and lit­tle po­lit­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, was a weak can­di­date. Lodhran was un­fa­mil­iar ground for the Ta­reens who had lit­tle grip on lo­cal af­fairs. In the larger na­tional per­spec­tive, the Lodhran elec­tion re­sult seems to in­di­cate that PML-N is grad­u­ally re­gain­ing its lost elec­toral ground. It is no­table that so far, the PML-N has held it­self in­tact as a party and has its pow­er­ful elec­toral ma­chine in full gear. This gives the party the con­fi­dence that it would win the gen­eral elec­tions. We must not over­look the fact that the PML-N is still the dom­i­nant elec­toral pres­ence in Pun­jab and faces no im­me­di­ate threat to its supremacy from any quar­ter. There is a grow­ing body of opin­ion in the coun­try that the PTI's anti-Nawaz rhetoric and cor­rup­tion mantra are not hav­ing the de­sired po­lit­i­cal im­pact any more. At least that is what is proved by the three by-elec­tions PML-N has won since the dis­qual­i­fi­ca­tion of for­mer prime min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif.

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