Pakistan News

Winners in their own categories

Winners in their own categories

ON the scales they have been working on since May 2013 and even before, both the PTI and PML-N have made considerable progress.

The PML-N back then was the established party looking to thwart the spirited challenge by the alternative offered by the PTI. The latter promised it could win the general election of May 11, 2013 on the strength of its untarnished — if inexperienced — leadership. The PML-N then as now was all too eager to dismiss Imran Khan as an agent of those who wanted to deprive this country of the fruits of the Sharifian economic vision.

Much stands corrected within the grand developmental dream that Mian Nawaz Sharif would flaunt as a panacea for all the ills this country was afflicted with just as he positioned himself for another term in the Prime Minister’s Office. Still, the refrain is that the PTI under Imran Khan is targeting what most endears people to the PML-N most — its economic plan for the uplift of Pakistanis.

At the news conference where the PML announced that it is going to challenge the election tribunal’s decision for a re-poll on NA-125, there was this inevitable defence against the rigging allegations. There was, however, as much emphasis on what the PML-N has been striving to achieve since its coming to power , over and above how the party might have been elected in the first place. The development train, that was shown to have been running in top gear in the wake of the recent visit by the Chinese president here, had to continue and in fact pick up pace.

The message is informed by the PML-N’s own estimates about the impact of its economic policies on the lives of Pakistanis. But to the credit of the party, there are many Pakistanis who share the sense of pride prevailing in the Sharif camp and are willing to vouch for the good trends the PML-N government has managed to initiate in its less than two years in power. The sense of achievement spurs aspirations where the people are ‘expected’ to not risk a new leader in place of a trusted one who is doing a decent enough job.

The developmental impression that the PML-N has been able to create leads to its own political repercussions and emboldens the party’s campaign against Imran Khan. If the PTI was an overexcited irritant back in 2013, in the wake of the development projects launched by the PML-N since, it had now taken the more monstrous shape of an ill-guided, malicious opponent. When the PML-N says this opponent is blinded by the lust for power and is ready to throw a spanner in the works to the collective misfortune of the people of Pakistan, people do listen.

A popular reading of the emotion does indicate that even when so many Pakistanis are sympathetic to Imran Khan’s call for investigation of poll fraud and election reforms, many do also acknowledge the ‘good’ work that the PML-N has put in over the last two years. The PML-N is hoping that the goodwill it has created will force a large enough group of Pakistanis to defer thoughts about finding an alternative until the next election, at least until then if not beyond.

It is this assessment of the public sentiment that then leads Khawaja Saad Rafique, the PML-N stalwart de-seated in NA-125, to boast that he favoured a by-election to challenging the tribunal decision against him in the Supreme Court. On the evidence of the PML-N success in the recently conducted cantonment elections in Lahore and elsewhere in Punjab, Khawaja Saad has every right to be upbeat about his chances.

The PTI is not — cannot — be looking forward to a by-election. It must continue with its push to have the entire 2013 election declared void. On the scale of its choice that it has been sticking to since May 2013, it may claim to have won a new moral victory with the tribunal decision on NA-125. Yet its principled stand is going to come under increasing pressure from the support that is increasingly there for the PML-N due in large measure to the reconfirmation of its economic credentials, as also, significantly, due to its perceived patch-up and renewed closeness with the military establishment. How it came to power, whether it was compelled to use any unfair means in the general election of 2013, are issues, but they can be ignored in favour of some fast, focused progress under the reliable and so visibly active leadership of the Sharifs.

There has always been an element of fear with which many have been defying the progress of the PTI ever since it matured into a force to reckon with. In many instances, the criticism in media betrayed the fear of what devastating effect Imran Khan could have on the system. This brought so many, including some who had previously been a little sceptical of the Sharifian model of progress, to oppose the PTI challenge together.

Much before the effect of the good policies is felt by the people, these commentators in media are there to point it out for the benefit of all, often playing the PML-N developmental model against any doubts about the conduct of 2013 election. In a way, these commentators would appear to justify the old notion which said that how you take power didn’t matter so long as you were able to deliver the goods to the people.

They are doing well enabled by the (perceptions of) positive activity the PML-N has been able to generate and helped by the gradually evolved argument which said the onus was on the PTI to prove not just that the polls in 2013 were in any way unfair to any of the participants, but also that there was systematic, institutionalised rigging. By the time it goes back to the people, the PML-N and its backers are hoping they will not just have the counter-argument against the rigging allegations. They are confident of having a freshly proven development model with which to wean people away from Imran Khan.

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2015

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