As the third phase of polling for the Local Government (LG) polls comes to a close, the federal capital yields surprising results. Based on the unofficial results Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) made large gains, winning 16 Union Council chairman seats and becoming the second largest party in the capital territory – a few seats behind Pakistan Muslim Leauge-Nawaz (PML-N). This contrast sharply with its showing in Punjab and Sindh; where its victories were disproportionately low compared to its share in the provinces and the federation and was routed by PML-N and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) respectively. While this result lends credence fact that the majority of PTI’s support lies in urban centers, its victory in Islamabad is based on a much different issue.

Firstly, the narrative of PTI’s ‘urban support’ is inconsistent. In other urban centers like Lahore and Karachi, PTI’s showing at local level did not match its performance at the provincial and national level, meaning that PTI may sway voters on national issues but when it comes to localised issues, the established party structures of PML-N and PPP still win on experience and outreach. Rigging and corruption – the PTI’s main agendas – are nationally appealing, but for Union Councils, infrastructure, civil services, development and the odd nepotistic appointment still dominate priorities. Here PTI’s relative youth as a party shines through, as does the need for improvement in grassroots level party management.

This still does not explain the oddity of the Islamabad polls. Splits in the PML-N ranks, with infighting and accusations of land grabbing being aired, has played its part in driving voters towards the PTI, but the PML-N development policies have done the most damage. The Metro bus project has been heavily criticised in central Islamabad, which does not have a traffic and transportation problem due to the city’s wide avenues and highways. The project seems superfluous and residents of the city object to the destruction of the city’s ‘master plan’ – which envisions tree lined avenues instead of imposing concrete and metal structures. The does not mean that the project is universally unpopular; it has great support in the overcrowded Rawalpindi. Islamabad, however, has different priorities failure to comprehend this, coupled with lackluster management of the Capital Development Authority (CDA) have made the PML-N unlikeable, and has propped up PTI as a viable alternative.

PTI’s performance in addressing Islamabad’s concerns would be a litmus test for the rest of the localised councils, where PTI has yet to reach.