Punjab to be battleground between PML-N, PTI

After getting two favourable decisions from the Supreme Court during the preceding year 2017, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is riding the high tide and hopes of making big gains in the next general election mainly in Punjab but the question remains whether it would be able to translate this major boost into votes. PTI, the major opposition party on the political landscape of the country, got a major boost during the year 2017 when it succeeded to get two decisions from the apex court in its favour, one was the disqualification of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Panama Papers scandal. And the other was rejection of the petition of PML-N leader Hanaif Abbasi against Chairman Imran Khan seeking his disqualification on allegations of misdeclaration of off shore assets and tax evasion. The petition also alleged PTI of getting illegal foreign funding.

At the same time, PTI also faced a major blow in Hanif Abbasi’s petition as the apex court disqualified its secretary general Jahangir Khan Tareen for not declaring his off shore assets. Mr Tareen was actually running the party from the driving seat and had a deep insight into the constituency politics. He was the person with whose efforts PTI had been able to bring some electables into its folds. PTI is also facing a major challenge as to how it will fill the gap that developed with the life time disqualification of its secretary general. PTI, during the year 2017, focussed its energies on the Supreme Court where it fought and went through the lengthy hearings of the Panama Papers case which culminated with the disqualification of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. After the conclusion of the Panama case, PTI focussed on the case of foreign funding and off shore wealth filed against it by the PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi and Imran Khan and got a clean chit from the court at the end.

It is sure that Punjab, the biggest province of the country in terms of population and having highest number of National Assembly seats,  will witness a one-on-one fight; between PML-N and PTI, in the 2018 General Elections. So, the province has become a battle ground for both the parties hoping to grab power next time. But at the same time, another challenge for both the parties are the emerging alliances of religious parties in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhaw who got a new life by highlighting the issue of Khatm-e-Nabuwwat.

 Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who is in power for four and a half years both in the centre and the Punjab have a lot of national resources on its disposal. The party is throwing funds in selective constituencies to woo voters. The party takes credit of development of road infrastructure and the initiation of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) Project. On the other hand, PTI has anti-corruption slogan as its tool to go into the elections. While, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has nothing in its basket to lure voters, except in Sindh where the party is in power for the last 10 years.

Imran-led party has already started its electoral campaign. The party is staging big rallies in different parts of the country which is being considered as a before time political campaign.

On the other hand, PML-N is struggling for making its image better after getting damaged by the decision in Panama case and the Khatm-e-Nabuwwat issue. Until Supreme Court judgment in Hudaibiya Paper Mills reopening case, Sharif family was really struggling for its survival. However, with the judgment of the SC that the Hudaibiya case cannot be reopened, PML-N has got a sigh of relief. The politics comes now for the Sharif family which has announced Shehbaz Sharif as PML-N candidate for the prime minister office after the general elections 2018.

Riding on anti-Nawaz sentiment, PTI is hoping for big success in 2018 general elections. The party is also leading in constituency assessment for awarding party tickets, according to the insiders. The party had started the process for consultations among party leadership and a constituency-wise survey was under way until Jahangir Tareen’s disqualification. The party is also hopeful for big political stalwarts joining the party, making its position further strengthened.

The presence of smaller parties in the general elections would be vital factor in shaping results and formation of future government. PTI has almost rejected any alliance with PPP. The chances of the alliance of PTI with smaller religious parties like Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TYLRA) are also looking dim.

 So in the next general election, it would be the anti-corruption slogan versus development work. Punjab would be the real battle ground. PML-N would be relying on the development work while the PTI would be beating the drums to expose corrupt politicians of which, according to the party, Nawaz Sharif is the leading one. But, it would remain a big challenge for the PTI whether it would succeeded to translate its anti-corruption slogan into increase of its vote bank in Punjab as well as retaining its vote bank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Zaigham Khan, a political analyst, said that this would always remain a challenge for PTI to translate the major boost it got as a result of two favourable decisions of the Supreme Court into the votes especially in Punjab. He said that there were two indicators to check popularity of any political party; one is surveys and other by-elections. Both these indicators show that PTI could not increase its vote bank to much extent in Punjab as compared to last election even after the Panama verdict and could only increase its popularity in KP. In the recently held by-election of NA-120, we have seen that PTI’s vote bank only increased up to 2.5 percent while the 7 percent decrease in the vote bank of PML-N shifted towards the religious parties and not towards PTI, he said. He said that recent trends show that the some vote bank of PML-N has shifted in Punjab towards religious parties like TLYRA and not towards PTI.

“Situation is much fluid as some winds are formed when the elections are very near and new alliances are emerging,” said Mr Zaigham Khan. He said that since 2013 General Election and especially after the ouster of former PM in an insulting manner, PTI has been trying to topple the government and demanding early elections. “PTI, so far, has failed in achieving favourable results through this strategy,” Mr Khan concluded.


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