Tsunami-less, yes but not hopeless


Why PTI failed to arrive big but still has all to play for

Far from the clean sweep that Imran Khan had envisioned, the only bit-part manifestation of the much heralded tsunami arrived in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province — the hotbed of militancy that only a braveheart can welcome as a prized catch.

Small wonder even Khan’s arch rival, the soon-to-be third time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, dropped it like a hot potato even when he could have conceivably formed a coalition government there!

So what is one to make out of the light kitty of the rock-star like politician, who fired the imagination of his compatriots and, in the lead-up to his spectacular fall from a fork-lifter 15ft high during one of a record spree of rallies two days from campaign closure, held the nation’s collective breath?

For a quarter hour after the accident in Lahore’s Ghalib Market when his fate hung in the balance, Pakistan came to a virtual standstill with nary an eye that was not moist as images of the country’s only World Cup winning cricket hero flashed on TV screens, obit-like.

In a memorable, if transcendental, moment of the campaign, Pakistanis were palpably close to grief, and the fear that another election was lost to tragedy was real. Mercifully, a great escape eventually made the credits.

Speaking of the legend of the fall, it immediately became a moot point — conforming to that typical South Asian theory of a sympathy vote. The not-so-grand tally at the end of the day however, would suggest it did not contribute a great deal, if at all.

In fact, Khan lost the only Lahore seat he was contesting to an unfancied opponent — for the third time in his political career. The formbook this time suggested Khan would have crossed the line with relative ease. His subsequent appeal for a recount was rejected notwithstanding how it raised eyebrows as one of the constituencies where inexplicably more than 100 percent vote was cast!

But in a way it highlighted the chink in the urban legend that marked the PTI campaign. A major chunk of political pundits, never mind the unsuspecting hoi polloi in the cities, failed to draw the line under the one outstanding corollary of Pakistani electoral science: politics of patronage, which is where the PML-N was always going to pip the PTI.

The much fancied ‘party-for-change’ clearly had not completed its homework — it barely traipsed into the rural heartlands where the vast majority of Pakistan lives, and where politics of patronage run so deep it would require a mission impossible to break the chain.

Much of the PTI campaign rested on the mantra for change, and the fond hope that a wave similar to the country’s first popularly elected Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1970 will somehow sweep it into power. Clearly, missed was the historic factoid that the charismatic Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party had an open field in West Pakistan unlike what the PTI was up against in 2013: two very strong parties with deep roots and pockets, and a decidedly real advantage of offering sops, against PTI’s unheralded promise.

It was always going to be an uphill task for Khan to win over the rural voter traditionally cast in a system of benefaction that makes him/her skeptical of any experimentation, especially one that is difficult for them to comprehend.

Khan had set store by an order where the local government would be empowered with their representative in the parliament no longer entitled to singular access to development funds.

The PTI’s signal failure was not being able to reach out to the rural populace, much less simplify the message and what it portended. Television adverts were never going to be a substitute for a hands-on, no frill campaign in rural Pakistan where more than 60 percent of the voters reside.

Besides, even though fielding 35 percent of the candidates in the 40-or-less age bracket was a bold gambit, the idea apparently didn’t catch the Punjabi voter’s imagination. Also, the pitch that 80 percent of PTI’s candidates had no previous parliamentary experience most likely worked against the party’s prospects: it was deemed “inexperience” rather than “fresh” energy as PTI had hoped for.

The fact that few in the party are willing to concede is that it lacked enough “electables” to make the count. But that shouldn’t be held against the party; there is only so much it could have done.

What proved to be an Achilles’ heel however, were the intra-party polls — ironical, considering that is still what distinguishes PTI from all other parties in its democratic manifestation — whose duration prevented the party from making a full campaign tilt.

The question intriguing most experts remains PTI’s own assessment of its prospects. Did they really expect a clean sweep as Khan had been projecting or was there a more grounded estimation?

Here’s the surprise package: contrary to the general perception of overriding pessimism within the PTI core at the results, the top leadership is said to have privately estimated securing no more than 35-40 seats in the lower house, and that, too, was contingent on them being able to generate a favourable wave!

Being the eternal optimist, Khan, of course, kept pushing his luck beyond the barely possible, resulting in exhaustion and finally, an accident.

Having said that, PTI’s resurrection following that October 2011 rally is manifest in how critics now concede little can stop Pakistan’s second largest national party on the strength of popular vote from finding its calling.

With its now established popular base, how the PTI performs in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Imran Khan wears the mantle of an opposition leader will determine to a great deal if the investment in hope the party has created a groundswell for has been worth it.

The writer is Editor Pique Magazine based in Islamabad. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. Why do you give space to such trash Pakistan Today?This columnist is part of the rigging scam by PMLN and he is richer by some lacs now.Readers are not dumb as idiots like this writer may imagine.This was too obvious. The conclusion to this anti people scheme has yet to come.Wait till then please.

  2. Imran Khan might have performed very well in these elections but their extremism did not let it happen. The above comments very well tell us the mind set of PTI. The party and followers consider them Pakistan loving and label their opponents as Enemies of Pakistan. I m a proud Pakistani and i love my country. But i dont like Imran and his PTI becoz of their extremist approach. I consider PML-N much better choice and have voted for it. Whats wrong in it. But the PTI followers cant tolerate difference of opinion. Its my sweet will to vote for PML-N. Is it undemocratic to vote for PML-N? PTI followers just dont know anything about politics and democracy and elections

  3. No-its simple the supporters of PML and their members are crooks(Sharifs have been in or around power for 30 yrs and their great achievement is a motorway-when the majority of the population have barely enough food to eat. They have stolen billions to fund billion dollar businesses in the UK.These people never will care for Pakistan and using the govt as a cash cow.

  4. another five years of a corrupt govt by mass rigging and more suffering for people – they say Nawaz Sharif has changed LOL., like the old saying goes ( once a willy always a willy) Nawaz and Zardari already held meeting charter of democra$y will be back in affect.

    • Amass billion$ in foreign assets then "change" and that change was evident in rigging Punjab elections by N-league's puppet election commission officials and police..

  5. I m Pakistani. I love my country. I love Nawaz Sharif. I lovePml-N. I dislike Imran khan and his party and followers. He and his followers r corrupt and insane. They cant accept defeat. Now keep crying for 5 years.

  6. One does not enjoy arguing with Pti followers because they r never logical and reasonable. Thanks God such extremist people r in a little minority. Pti followers r mufad parast.

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