“Why did they disqualify me?” Nawaz Sharif asked the crowds at his various rallies along the GT Road as he marched back to Lahore. In their celebratory gathering at Liaquat Bagh on August 13, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf set out to answer the question.
The rally at Liaquat Bagh was a show to rival that of Nawaz Sharif as he reached Lahore, the base of his political career and power. The mood was celebratory, the party leadership appeared relaxed as they took to the stage and congratulated each other for the victory; they also called out Nawaz Sharif and his refusal to accept the decision.
Almost an hour before 12am, Imran Khan went up to speak to a cheering crowd. He, like other leaders, answered Sharif’s query. “The courts for the past 6 months, the court ran your case, investigated and then when you were caught you say the people’s mandate was stolen and ask why have they disqualified me? Nawaz Sharif that is not the question,” he addressed the crowds, directing the question at the former prime minister.
On the same day, the PTI dropped pamphlets from helicopters in Rawalpindi, stating in ten points exactly why Sharif had been sent home.
According to Ayaz Amir, a senior political analyst, this was a good strategy on the part of the PTI. He believes they should continue attacking the PML-N. “The rally to counter the Nawaz Sharif’s GT Road march was a good decision, as was that of dropping pamphlets,” he says. He sees this as a tactic to continue building pressure on the PML-N.
For the last four years, the PTI which has emerged as the main opposition party in the country has been on the streets rallying support against a system they believe to be corrupt. The first time was on August 14, 2014, when they launched an Azadi March against electoral rigging, at the heart of which was the demand to recount the votes in four constituencies to show systematic electoral rigging. The weight of the allegations was on the ruling party PML-N.
About three years later, the PTI had again taken to the streets, this time asking for Sharif’s accountability after his children’s name emerged in the Panama Papers. The allegation was money laundering. The PTI believed the money used to acquire all these properties had been made through corruption.
“It was not our wish for Nawaz Sharif to be declared unfit,” says Ejaz Chaudhry, a senior leader of the PTI. He says Sharif was given a fair chance to explain everything. “They did not have just one but five opportunities to answer the questions raised by the Panama Leaks.”
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So, what’s next for the PTI? Chaudhry believes the fight is not yet over. He points to various issues that the party will continue to build pressure on. He questions Sharif’s actions since his ouster saying, “He used public funds, tax-payer money with the cooperation of the federal and provincial governments during the rally. We have an issue with this.”
Chaudhry says Sharif also has to explain some of the statements he made during the case and after it. “He has pointed towards the military for conspiring against him, saying the decision to oust him had been made before (the JIT report). He needs to explain exactly what he means by such statements.”
The PTI is also backing the PAT’s demand of making the report of the incident in Model Town Public. Chaudhry calls it the “Model Town massacre,” adding “When the hearing of the case starts, it is important to have the report public so it can be made clear who is responsible; otherwise facts can be misrepresented.”
To him, the PTI will continue keeping an eye on the references filed in NAB. “They were supposed to present the Hudaibiya Paper Mill case within a week for review in front of the Supreme Court, but they have not done so.”
Chaudhry says it is time for all in the political arena to be held accountable, including the PTI leadership, which also has charges filed against them. He believes Imran Khan will present all his documents in the court relating to his property in Bani Gala as will as Jahangir Tareen who has a case against him for not declaring assets and having an off-shore company. “We are doing this across the board and no one will be left out,” he adds.
With an election coming next year and in NA-120, many feel the PTI should also be looking for ways to increase their support base. “They should turn their attention towards the election and think of this as a big contest. It is not the end all be all but definitely an opportunity for them,” says Ayaz Amir, speaking of the by-election in NA-120.
He thinks that for the election next year the PTI is in a good place. “If there is an election in 2018 and PTI cannot win the largest number of seats, it will never be able to win.”
To Amir, the current situation is more of a crisis for the ruling party. “The PTI is in a favourable position.”
Imtiaz Alam, senior columnist, says the ouster of Nawaz Sharif and his rhetoric against the system is all that Imran Khan has to offer to the public. “The main plan of his corruption drive was against Nawaz Sharif and he doesn’t have an agenda on systemic corruption that can be addressed through systemic reforms. He is not interested in that.”
Alam says Khan failed to explain the four points he had put forth at the rally at Liaquat Bagh. “His politics is essentially rhetorical, anti-incumbency against parties of old regimes.” Alam feels Khan is nothing but a new face on the block and that is where his appeal and strategy end.
What lies next though for the PTI? Chaudhry says their “top priority” now is the election next year. He says they’ve set up a parliamentary board to look at contesting candidates and have also started a membership drive to increase party support.
Some young PTI voters feel left out of the PTI’s current strategy, “Their politics has become more Punjab-centered,” says Khalid Omar Sherwani, a 22-year old political science student based in Karachi, who says he no longer supports the party. “The urban Karachi voter feels helpless and useless because electing the PTI to the National Assembly will not have their voice heard.”
He raises an issue that has come up often in the past, especially by Naz Baloch who left the party in July. There is another woman MNA who announced to leave the party and created quite a much storm. There may be a lull regarding Ayesha Gulalai’s allegations of sexual harassment against Imran Khan for now. But it is likely to come in the news again, with some real consequences for the party.