The holding of the local council elections in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, means that the country’s two Western provinces have completed the exercise, and the two largest provinces, Punjab and Sindh, have to undergo it. It also means that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has fulfilled one of its electoral promises, though the elections have taken place on the orders of the Supreme Court, and almost two years after the elections, that brought them to power in the province. The elections also showed that the party was now not so much one anchored to reform, as one of power, winning control of the majority of district councils. However, the strong showing by the ANP showed that it had regained some of the ground it lost in the 2013 election. They also had the novel experience of being charged with something, it had accused other parties of doing, i.e. rigging. Moreover, it also had to bear the odium of having arrested a former ANP minister after deaths, due to celebratory firing. In short, PTI, a party that had so far made a trademark of being a party of the opposition, had to contest the elections as a party of power.

Imran Khan responding by agreeing to re-poll shows PTI’s own awareness, that the charge of rigging is more damaging to it than to other parties. The way he hedged it with conditions, showed a realization that being in office carried responsibility, and the wish that others would accept a poll as final, even if they lost. How many re-polls are to be conducted on the demand of the loser?

Failing a re-poll, the first target of the PTI is the Punjab local body polls in September. The Sindh polls will be held around the same time; however, in this case, the PPP is expected to dominate the rural areas, and the MQM the urban, in such a manner that there will be no room left for the PTI. This does not mean the PTI has no ambitions, especially in Karachi, but it is not expected to make any real headway, given the strongholds of its opponents. On the other hand, they wish to make greater gains in Punjab, where in the general election they had more or less replaced the PPP, as the main opponent to the PML (N). The PTI can take encouragement from the KP results, which showed an electorate which had not yet made any judgement, which more or less voted as it had done in the general election.

If this trend persists in Punjab, it would actually result in PPP seeing worse results than KPK, where it still won 37 seats of tehsil and district councilors. One of the factors that cannot be omitted in Punjab is the failure of the PPP high command, to motivate the voter. Those who wish to defeat PML (N) have not found them very effective. In the 1979 local council elections, that were party-less, candidates running as ‘Awamdost Benazir’, they actually won a majority, sufficient enough to elect a PPP mayor for Lahore. However, their councilors were faced with a stark choice: either they backed the ‘official’ candidate, Mian Shujaur Rehman, or they would be disqualified as party candidates. Since then, the PPP has lost all three local council elections, and all but one of the seven general elections. Even on the three occasions it formed central government, it won the Punjab government only once, and that too in alliance within the PML (J), which claimed the Chief Ministership. The PTI is an attractive alternative for those PPP supporters who are not ‘jiyalas’, where It should not be forgotten that this party only won because of ‘tactical’ supporters, who took the PPP ticket because it meant winning. They are now tired of losing all the time, and would now like to win.

The PML (N) is going to face a challenge on its home turf, where they grew out of local elections, with the preferred means of awarding tickets was to those who could produce the most councilors in support. These in return, were the local strongmen who turned out the vote. Moreover, they had to have a share of the development funds to be persuaded to play their role, and thus the PPP had a visceral dislike of local bodies, which it seems PML(N) has also developed, as has PTI, judging by the strenuous efforts made by the Supreme Court to hold these elections. PTI is likely to use the local council elections to build its local organizations, just as PML (N) did.

Local bodies were seen by the British Raj, as a necessary first step on the path to democracy, and thus Imran Khan’s emphasis on the efficacy of local councils as an institute for democracy, can be seen as another point where he, the Raj and the military have a meeting of minds. Another point is that politicians are corrupt, where the easiest point of corruption is the local council development funds. The PTI, may well enough have another reason to stress local bodies, providing a trough from which campaign funds will be generated. It should be noted that, despite the talk of change and of a new Pakistan, the PTI is still using the old means of funding elections, giving tickets to the moneyed, who can afford to raise and spend ridiculous sums, even if they lose. A reminder of how well the PTI looks on the military came with its condition for a re-election, that they be held under military supervision.

Another dimension which will prove a wild card was seen in KPK, where the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) is conducting the election, rather than the Provincial Local Election Authority. One effect was that the provincial government did its best to shift the responsibility for law and order, which broke down during polling, with 20 killed in poll-related violence province-wide on polling day, to the ECP, and the ECP back. The federal-provincial rivalry is not because of the PML (N)-PTI rivalry, but because of that between bureaucratic structures, and thus is likely to be seen in Punjab as well, even with the party in office being the same.

One effect of the poll was to distract attention from another PTI initiative: the judicial commission investigating the 2013 elections. It seems that the PTI insists on having its cake and eating it too. Elections it loses are rigged by the party in power, unless they themselves are winning. It is no coincidence that the loudest cries are coming from the ANP. Just as the PML(N) is the party to beat in Punjab, so is the ANP in KPK. It has ended its rivalry with the PPP, which dates back to the 1975 ban on its NAP avatar, not to mention its sacking of its provincial governments in 1972, and even allied with it. There has been an alternation between taking a right or a left in the elections since 2003, with the MMA winning then, the ANP and PPP forming a coalition in 2008, and the PTI allying with the Jamaat Islami to win office in 2013. The local council polls have confirmed this result, which is good news for the PTI, but only partially, for it means it does not have much chance of making breakthroughs in Punjab. Of course, if there is to be a repoll, then the PTI would have another front to handle.