The people of AJK have chosen, even amidst all the allegations levelled against the government by detractors and opposition alike. PML-N has won by a landslide once more, even though political pundits had predicted a closer election. Both PTI and PPP have lost badly, and while many followers on social media and making it seem like foul play, the fact that top heads of PTI have accepted defeat this once is a welcome development. The problem though is, that each time PML-N wins an electoral battle, it will gain confidence, and that often breeds complacency.
Of course, the opposition has the responsibility to not let this happen, which it has done so far, but for all the wrong reasons. The objective should not be to derail the government, but to point out their flaws in a way that seems palatable to the voters as well. A change of tack is required, specifically from PTI, because the current path is not winning it the expected amount of seats.
And perhaps that is the real problem that other political parties need to grasp. Maybe the country has actually moved past the politics of pointing out the other’s failures, and instead to what you can do for the country. And maybe that is where both PTI and PPP lacked in their electoral campaign. Where PML-N promised development, or at least referred to its past mega-projects as a (very generalised) statement of intent, the vast majority of the content coming in from the other camps was about how the ruling government was corrupt and needed to be held accountable.
Indeed, Imran Khan’s speech lacked anything in the form of promises for what PTI could do in AJK; instead he gave sheepish smiles about how his government was doing well, but could be doing better, and that he would fix that on his next attempt, which would hopefully have been in AJK. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on the other hand, talked of bygone leaders and their speeches, which the public – with its short-term memory – can no longer identify fully with. He also lambasted the (virtually non-existent) Nawaz-Modi friendship, which given the demographic, was actually a skilful ploy, although potentially dangerous, but that did not work either.
PTI and PPP made the grievous mistake of thinking that making the voters believe that PML-N was corrupt would be enough to win electoral power. But clearly it isn’t. Both need to separate their electoral campaign from raising genuine issues; Panama leaks and government accountability for instance comes in the latter category. Merging has only proved detrimental, both for winning the elections and as a means to act as a responsible opposition. Electoral campaigns in democracies Mr Khan idolises are focused around what the politician in question can do for his representatives; we need to see much more of that from PTI if it ever wants to be anything more than an opposition party.