It was widely believed that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) would again emerge as the leading party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) in the July 2018 general election, but the scale of its victory has caused a surprise.
The voters in the province had voted out previous ruling parties such as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), the alliance of religio-political parties, in 2008 and the coalition of Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 2013, and it was felt the electorate may also make the PTI accountable for failing to deliver on some of its election campaign promises. It was clear the PTI won’t meet the fate of the ANP and PPP, which were routed in the May 2013 polls after ruling the province for five years due to the widely held perception that their rule was one of the most corrupt in the province, but there was speculation that the number of PTI’s votes and assembly seats would be reduced in July 2018 even though it would retain its position as the single largest party in the KP Assembly.
All those estimates proved wrong as the PTI under Imran Khan’s leadership swept the election in KP by winning from 60 constituencies in the 126-member provincial assembly and over 30 of the 39 National Assembly seats. The eight political parties pitted against it faced an embarrassing defeat as their candidates, including the leaders, lost even in their strongholds.
The outcome of the election in KP was surprising, but not unbelievable considering the fact that the PTI also won in Punjab and did well and beyond expectation in Sindh and Balochistan, the two provinces where it has been traditionally weak. There was a pro-PTI wave driven by the youth, who have been loyal fans of the cricketer-turned-politician largely because of his never-say-die approach.
However, the yearning for change embodied by Imran Khan wasn’t always easily discernible due to the politics of allegations and counter-allegations that has become the hallmark of Pakistan’s political landscape. An impression had been created that the election would be rigged in PTI’s favour as Imran Khan was the favourite of the so-called establishment, which in Pakistan is meant to describe the all-powerful military.
Though the PTI made an extra effort this time in the selection of its candidates in KP and elsewhere for the election compared with 2013 when tickets were awarded to mostly unknown and untested aspirants, the process had many shortcomings. It was indeed a challenge to finalise the list of candidates due to the sheer numbers in terms of the ticket-seekers. No other party received so many applications for tickets as there was a general feeling that the PTI was going to win and form the next government not only in KP, but also at the federal level.
The denial of tickets to a large number of PTI activists prompted many to rebel against the party decision and contest the election as independent candidates. However, they failed to make any difference as voters had made up their mind to vote for ‘bat’ which was PTI’s election symbol. The award of tickets to so-called ‘electables’ also caused anger in the PTI ranks and invited intense criticism because Imran Khan’s promise of ‘change’ couldn’t be fulfilled by having by his side the resourceful, party-changing politicians who always stand for the status quo.
The defeat of politicians known all over Pakistan and beyond at the hands of largely unknown PTI candidates was shocking. ANP head Asfandyar Wali Khan lost to PTI’s Fazal Mohammad Khan, who has never won an assembly seat in the past, and the same happened to Jamaat-i-Islami ameer SirajulHaq, who was defeated in his native Lower Dir by an obscure PTI nominee named Mohammad Bashir Khan. JUI-F leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman lost two National Assembly seats in Dera Ismail Khan to Shaikh Mohammad Yaqub, who had quit JUI-F to join PTI, and PTI’s former provincial minister Ali Amin Gandapur. Asfandyar Wali’s son Aimal Wali and Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s son Asad Mahmood were also defeated. Qaumi Watan Party chief Aftab Sherpao had never lost his National Assembly seat in Charsadda, but he too was beaten by a little known PTI candidate Anwar Taj. PML-N President Shahbaz Sharif lost to PTI’s former MNA Salimur Rahman in Swat and PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to another former PTI lawmaker Junaid Akbar in Malakand district.
As is evident from the election results, PTI won seats all over KP to show its province-wide popularity unlike almost all other parties that have traditional pockets of support in certain parts of the province. The PTI also benefited from its leader’s anti-corruption slogan as the voters continue to support promises of across the board accountability. There have been allegations of corruption against the PTI government, but no scandal has yet emerged as nothing has yet been proved against former Chief Minister Pervez Khattak or his ministers. The anti-graft provincial Ehtesab Commission established by the PTI-led coalition also proved a non-starter as it was paralysed by a host of issues.
There is also a strong belief that the PTI government tried hard to bring reforms in the education, health and other sectors, depoliticise the police and enact useful legislation for the benefit of the people. It may not have delivered after promising too much, but the wide mandate given to PTI in the election showed that the voters were willing to give it five years more years to deliver. Another reason for voting PTI to power again seems to be the feeling that all other parties have been tried and tested and found wanting.
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As the PTI has sufficient strength in the provincial assembly to form the government without the help of any other party, it would no longer be required to appease its coalition partners as was the case during its previous stint in power when the JI and QWP got the lion’s share in the cabinet with the choicest portfolios and insisted on giving their input in all policies. Another plus point this time would be having the PTI government in the centre as well unlike the recent past when the PML-N was running the federal government and preferring its party’s government in Punjab more than those led by its political rivals, PTI in KP and PPP in Sindh. However, this would also put the burden on the PTI to deliver rather than coming with the excuse of having to manage a coalition government in KP or dealing with a rival party’s government in the Centre.