In one of my earlier pieces, I had acknowledged the efficacy of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) strategy to neutralize Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI). I had said that since the latter’s decision-making was impetuously over-centralized and inflexible, Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s advisers had effectively exploited this weakness to create high pressure points around Imran Khan to keep him from focusing on reality based pragmatic politics. I was vindicated by what happened in the bye-election at Lodhran.
The Lodhran event was critical for both PML-N and Khan Sahib. A PTI victory on the seat, considered traditionally secure with the Tarin Family, would have compounded Mr. Sharif’s woes, boosting morale in the opposite camp. On the contrary, an upset defeat for Ali Tarin would be windfall for the Ruling Party, providing them with new credibility and more importantly leverage, in the forthcoming general elections. The defeat would tarnish PTI’s political image with possible effects on its performance at the 2018 polls. As it was, PML-N upset all projections, leaving Imran Khan’s party in a state of shocked disbelief.
There are multiple facets of the Lodhran contest that arouse interest. If reports are to be believed, the PML-N candidate polled roughly the same number of votes as the 2013 Elections. It was, however, the PTI, whose vote count dropped by a staggering 42000, when compared with its performance in 2013. The fact that these votes did not go to PML-N indicates that these voters had abstained. I spoke to many PTI supporters from the affected area, who appeared upset over the fact that the Tarin Family had raised barriers between themselves and the electorate at grass root level. Some were critical of the choice of candidate, saying that it compromised Imran Khan’s stand on dynastic politics. I met a PML-N activist in Islamabad and congratulated him on the victory to elicit a reaction out of him. He surprised me by saying that he was still coming to terms with the victory, that was due solely to the failure of PTI leadership at all levels to mobilize their vote bank.
The bane of Khan Sahib’s party is idealistic inflexibility and emotive decision making. The top leadership of PTI is reputed to suffer from egotistic conflicts, which have obstructed evolution of linkages with low level party cadres, so essential for feedback, resolution of issues and comfort levels. I was amazed, when a district level PTI portfolio holder told me of how the top party leadership had isolated themselves from basic tiers, even to the point of ignoring them.
What has happened at Lodhran cannot be undone. For the PTI, it is something to be reflected upon in a very serious manner, for if the Party continues to play politics in the current fashion, I am afraid it will suffer more reverses. I am told that an enquiry has been instituted into Ali Tarin’s defeat and we may even see some heads roll. This will not have the desired results unless a change of culture is instituted within the party. Also of importance is the necessity of Imran Khan to stay away from controversies and deny leverage to his opponents. He must understand that when one becomes a public figure, his or her life ceases to remain a private affair.
There is still a fair amount of time before the next polls. PTI must employ this period to do an operational audit, identify its faults and take immediate steps to rectify them. This will take some doing as it is likely to annoy some key individuals. The coming days will require skillful and patient management of issues, wherein egos must be set aside for a greater cause. PTI must remember that even if PML-N wins the next election, a strong and potent opposition will be a national imperative to provide the necessary check and balance.
The writer is a freelance columnist.