Issue Framing

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when someone says PTI? For me, the image is of a dejected Imran Khan, hopelessly lamenting the failures of the Election Commission of Pakistan.  Issue framing, especially in a political campaign, holds significant importance as it defines the best strategy to present a political ideology. By using key words and phrases, systematically and repeatedly, they ensure the continuation of an idea; an image that sticks. From PTI’s last campaign the idea that stuck was ‘tabdeeli’. Recently, the only word that comes to mind is ‘dhandli’. It leaves an impression of helplessness and political failure. Seek retribution by all means, but don't let that one objective be the defining agenda of the party; proving that the last elections were rigged is not going to help the party win the next election. Imran Khan does not need to supervise every ‘dhandli’ related press conference; there are others in the party who are definitely capable of handling this job.

Electronic media is perhaps the most important tool for an election campaign now and hence political issue framing on television plays an important role for a party. When we continuously hear the same words or see the same things, it creates a picture in our heads. Subsequently, the images we collect, influence the way we behave and the way we perceive information. How can PTI most effectively set its frame to achieve the best outcomes? By focusing on its successes; what it has achieved and what it plans to do in the future.

Defining PTI’s Objectives

Is PTI a political party or a revolutionary movement? PTI aspires to achieve a ‘tabdeeli’ that can only be brought about by a revolution and a complete overhaul of the institutions of Pakistan. Imran Khan did not start a revolution; he started a political party that can only function within the Constitutional framework of Pakistan. It is an important distinction that party leaders and followers have to understand; the rhetoric that Imran Khan uses gives the wrong impression. The dharna is one example. It started out as a movement against electoral rigging in the 2013 general elections. In the middle of the dharna, the boundaries got muddled and Imran Khan led his supporters to believe that they were going to overthrow the government by marching towards the Parliament House. This move did not sit well with many PTI supporters; some thought that it endangered the lives of protestors and instigated anarchy, others were disappointed it couldn't overthrow the government. When a party does not define what it stands for, it cannot define its successes and failures. Achieving success, no matter how small, is essential to sustain the momentum of a political campaign. In this case, the political movement was a success but the revolution was not.

Highlighting Success

KP can serve as a blue print for the Naya Pakistan we have been promised. It will be an essential campaigning tool for 2018. Starting now, PTI needs to document and market its success in the province. If PTI fails to achieve its targets in KP, it certainly cannot claim to bring about tabdeeli in the rest of the country.

Widening the Electoral Base

PTI should work towards widening its electoral base. What can PTI do to sway people who vote for PML-N or PPP? Why is PTI only doing well in urban centers of the country?  It is time to broaden the message of the party, so as to cater to the needs of the rural population.

Agenda setting

What is PTI’s political agenda? Right now, it seems that the only objective is to expose how they have been wronged. The ghost of the past election still haunts PTI. It needs a forward looking approach. The discussion should be more about what PTI has achieved and less about what the rivals are doing wrong. Don’t focus on why the Metro Bus is a bad idea, tell the masses why your projects on education, health etc. are a better idea. Focus on your agenda and how your developmental projects seek to improve the quality of life of the masses.

Building Alliances

For Imran Khan, everything is either black or white. The reality is a little more complicated than that. All rival politicians or parties are not pure evil, and PTI has made alliances with these people in the past and will continue do so in the future. Blaming, defaming and hurling abuses at political opponents has become an integral part of our recent political campaign history, but these tactics should only be used sparingly. Attacking specific policies and events is a better option than ad hominem attacks. After labeling a party or a person corrupt, going back and forging alliances with them hurts the party’s image. It also disappoints PTI’s staunch supporters who have come to believe in the utopian form of government that Imran Khan propagates.

Similarly, institutions evolve over time as countries progress; denouncing and rejecting an entire institution is not a sustainable tactic. Imran Khan’s criticism of the Election Commission of Pakistan serves as a good example. PTI cannot dismantle the Election Commission of the country or change its practices overnight, so it would be wise not to hurl insults so frequently.

PTI has achieved considerable success since its inception; it has shown us that it is possible to question the status quo and bring about change. It has introduced its own brand of jalsas and dharnas. It has made the youth more politically aware and, for the first time, shown Pakistanis that our politicians can be held accountable for their actions. PTI’s success cannot be gauged by the number of seats it secured in 2013; its success is evident in the fear and changed policies of its political rivals. For these reasons, PTI should not lose sight of its goals and run an aggressive campaign for 2018.