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Pakistan Election 2018: Lahore — This way to Islamabad

A Naya Pakistan? With results from Pakistan’s general election pointing to a commanding victory for Imran Khan and PTI, The Sunday Express looks at what the results of this election, probably Pakistan’s most polarising in recent history, mean.

Written by Farah Zia |
Updated: July 29, 2018 7:29:32 am
imran khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, wins pakistan general elections Imran Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), ahead of the general elections. (Reuters/File)

A Naya Pakistan? With results from Pakistan’s general election pointing to a commanding victory for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, The Sunday Express looks at what the results of this election, probably Pakistan’s most polarising in recent history, mean for the country. A view from Lahore.

On July 25, at a polling booth in Lahore’s suburban Shahdara, 20-year-old Saleem reeled off the achievements of Nawaz Sharif’s government in Islamabad and his brother Shehbaz Sharif’s work as chief minister of Punjab.

“We are not bothered about Panama (the scandal that cost Nawaz Sharif his job as PM) or the money stashed abroad. He brought back peace,” Saleem said, talking of the new roads, bridges and the smooth supply of electricity in Lahore.

In an adjoining polling station, the women were as enthusiastic about the Sharifs: “Nawaz did good work for the country. We have roads, Metro buses and no loadshedding.”

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As it turned out, all that did not matter. The Sharifs may have seemed invincible on the streets of Lahore — their Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) won 10 out of 14 parliamentary seats in the city – but across the rest of Punjab province, there was a clue in the profusion of posters depicting the cricket bat symbol and a former cricket star’s face.

Also read | Karachi — After 30 years, MQM falls, PTI rises

imran khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, wins pakistan general elections At a polling station in Rawalpindi, Punjab. The PML(N) won 10 out of 14 seats in Lahore but lost Punjab to the PTI. (Reuters Photo)

July 25 was Imran Khan’s day out not just in Punjab, which sends the largest number of elected representatives to the National Assembly (141), but across Pakistan. The road to Islamabad lies through Punjab, but Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) convincingly swept not just the largest of Pakistan’s provinces, but also Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), and as it rolled along, grabbed Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh and the country’s largest city. The only saving grace for the PML(N) is that it is neck and neck with the PTI in the Punjab Assembly.

After a 22-year struggle in the quicksand of Pakistani politics, the PTI has sailed smoothly to a simple majority at the Centre and is tipped to form two provincial governments — in KP and, with likely help from Independents, in Punjab.

Pakistanis have woken up to a Naya Pakistan, not yet the one promised by Imran Khan, but definitely a changed one. There are no jostling crowds at Raiwind, the sprawling Sharif homestead on the outskirts of Lahore, no big cars sweeping in with important people as they did at the height of the PML(N)’s popularity. Nawaz is in jail with his daughter Maryam. His brother Shehbaz, who has won both a National Assembly seat in Lahore and two Punjab Provincial Assembly seats, is making a bid to propel the PML(N) to power in the Punjab Assembly, but it’s a toss-up. His next challenge is to get his brother and niece out of jail.

imran khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, wins pakistan general elections PTI supporters during a rally in Karachi. The party has emerged as the largest political force in the city. (Reuters Photo)

All the action has now shifted to Imran Khan’s massive hilltop home in Bani Gala, an Islamabad suburb. His security cover has been raised to VVIP levels, three rings of policemen now guard the house, and an ambulance and fire tenders are at the gates.

The PML(N) has cried foul, alleging the counting was fixed and has threatened to take to the streets. But despite the allegations around a piece of paper called Form 45, it is finally sinking in that Imran Khan is the prime minister-designate.

Also read | Pakistan Election 2018: All roads to India may lead through Pak army

In more ways than one, Imran was “the most favourite” candidate. The kind of pan-Pakistan mandate he has received was last seen in the 1970s, for Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. It is widely believed that election outcomes are always pre-determined, and the victor always has the blessings of the country’s military establishment. Clearly though, there was something else working for Imran.

Pre-poll help aside, the voting itself appears to have been clean as was evident from the number of establishment favourites who lost. On the other hand, two leaders of the leftist, anti-establishment Pashtun Tahafuz Movement won from South Waziristan.

All the new parties that mushroomed mysteriously before the election lost. The two religious parties, Jamiat-e-Ulema Islami and Jamat-e-Islami, performed miserably. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik, an extremist group led by the cleric Khadim Rizvi, and Hafiz Saeed’s Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek, a front of the Jamat-ud-Dawa/Lashkar-e-Taiba, also failed to win a single seat. Aurangzeb Farooqi, a UN-designated terrorist of the Ahle Wal Sunnah Jamaat, was defeated by a woman candidate of the PTI.

imran khan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief, wins pakistan general elections A Pakistani soldier stands guard in a bus ferrying election staff and polling material to booths in Karachi. (AP Photo)

But these groups are not disappearing. The biggest surprise is that the Labbaik was at number two in Karachi’s Lyari, a PPP stronghold where party leader and Benazir Bhutto’s eldest child, Bilawal Bhutto, was pushed to the number 3 position on a family seat. The Labbaik remains a formidable presence. It is one of the parties that have alleged rigging, with Khadim Rizvi threatening to do a sit-in of the kind that paralysed Islamabad two years ago, bringing the Sharif government to its knees and getting the military to hold talks with him to end the impasse. This time, however, the Labbaik may not get the same indulgence. But it is clear from visits to the outfit’s offices in Punjab that the same young Pakistan that powered the PTI’s victory has contributed to the rise of the Labbaik.

Much then depends on how much of his promised Naya Pakistan Imran can deliver.

Unlike his predecessor, who took the mike a tad too hurriedly on the election night of 2013, Khan took his time before making a victory speech, appearing before the media a full day after the last vote was cast, exuding confidence. Dressed in a white shalwar kameez, he made a measured speech, apparently delivered ad lib, squeezing in all that he could — from electoral promises to a new Medina model of welfare state.

As he promised to act as Prime Minister for all of Pakistan, there were many who hailed him as the first true leader of Pakistan after Jinnah and said they got goose bumps listening to him. Yet, others pointed to his inner circle, including the party’s chief financier Jahangir Tareen, whom the country’s Supreme Court disqualified for life, for the same reasons as Nawaz Sharif.

As analysts try to explain the wide sweep of the PTI victory, there are questions to grapple with. Will these elections be a harbinger of political stability or will this be a short-lived experiment toward a mid-term election? Will the establishment be happy letting the PTI rule over the Centre, KP and Punjab? And how will the other parties conduct themselves vis-à-vis the PTI?

Why Imran Khan may have less of a chance orchestrating new thinking on India A woman supporter of Tehreek-e-Insaf party raises a picture of her party’s leader Imran Khan during an election campaign in Karachi. (AP)

“The PML-N had a confused narrative. While Shehbaz Sharif was selling development to his voters, Nawaz Sharif adopted an aggressive mode. But only one narrative worked and that was what the PTI harped on — corruption,” says senior analyst Suhail Warraich, who had been predicting the fall of the PML(N) ever since the Panama scandal broke out and famously wrote a column in Urdu headlined, ‘The party is over’.

Warraich believes people were tired of the same old parties and were swept away by the PTI’s slogan of “change”. What Warraich sees as a wave for the PTI, televison anchor Nusrat Javeed attributes to a “mix of the party’s popularity and the 61 electables switching sides” from the PML(N) to the PTI.

The PTI looks comfortable for now, holding the reins of at least three governments. Javeed, however, is more worried about economic stability, “which I don’t see in the near future”. “Our economic stability is closely tied with our foreign policy and Imran Khan has no grand scheme regarding that. He may be popular in India but that’s the popularity of an individual.”

The writer is Editor, The News on Sunday

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