NA 122 By-Election: Roaring lions, lurking tigers and a broken arrow

According to unofficial results, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PMLN) Ayaz Sadiq has bagged NA 122 with 74,525 votes, beating Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf’s (PTI) Aleem Khan who got 72,082 votes. This is PMLN’s victory, and no post-election cries of foul play can take that away from the ruling party. Having said that, the result also ought to ring alarm bells for PMLN for having faced such a tough fight in its stronghold.

In extremely adverse circumstances, PMLN’s Ayaz Sadiq won this seat in 2002 with a margin of 18,893 votes, beating Imran Khan. In 2008, Ayaz Sadiq beat Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP) candidate with a margin of 54,543 votes. In  2013, Ayaz Sadiq again beat Imran Khan by 8,872 votes. And now, in 2015 by-election, this margin has been reduced to less than 2500 votes. So yes, this is a wake-up call for PMLN. PTI has challenged PMLN in Lahore; the latter’s fortress.

The margin clearly shows that the election could have gone either way, but it didn’t, it went PMLN’s way. Even though PTI is calling this a moral victory, this is more of a moral victory for PMLN. Why? because NA 122 by-election result corroborates the Judicial Commission’s report and PMLN’s stance on allegations of rigging. There were irregularities, but there is no evidence, and little probability of a planned conspiracy to rig the GE 2013.

PTI and its chairman have repeatedly asserted that PMLN won the 2013 elections in general, and NA 122 in particular, through rigging. He alleged that thousands of votes cast in NA 122 were fake and bogus, at times the number of alleged fake votes went up to 53000. However, 11th October’s by-election was held mostly in accordance with PTI’s demands and under Army’s supervision, hence no serious allegations of rigging surfaced throughout polling hours. PMLN did not bag as many votes as it did in GE 2013, but neither did PTI, and Ayaz Sadiq won the seat. If in GE 2013, Mr. Ayaz Sadiq won this seat with the help of 30, 40 or 50 thousand fake votes, why aren’t these votes missing from his vote count now?  11th October’s election has dealt a fatal blow to PTI’s allegations of rigging, and the party may find it difficult to stand by its previous stance.

PTI should still be encouraged by the results. It bagged the provincial assembly seat and only lost the national assembly seat after a very close fight. I don’t see this as an electoral loss for PTI, maybe just a moral one, that too owing to the obsessively unreasonable and assumptive allegations that consumed two important years of PTI’s own time, allegations that continue to lose credibility. PTI should thus quit the cries of foul play, they may not be so readily believed this time around. Instead Imran Khan and PTI should now focus on eliminating the possibility of irregularities in future elections, work with the Parliament for electoral reforms and bring about necessary progressive improvements within the party. Allegations of rigging may be believed by PTI supporters, but they are already with Khan, if it wants to add to its vote bank, PTI needs to appeal to the masses, including those who aren’t already supporting them. They need to realize that at the moment, they are falling slightly short of the required numbers, not in their jalsas but in their votes.

PMLN also needs to learn its lessons from this election. The margin is squeezing, and if left ignored, it may create problems for the party in future. PMLN needs to start working in its stronghold and other parts of the country. PTI is a strong contender, stronger than PMLN’s past contenders. PMLN needs to begin its election campaign early, as early as right now. Being in government means being exposed, each and every weakness, every shortcoming will be exploited by the opposition. PMLN doesn’t have a friendly opposition anymore. PPP is nowhere, PTI is the real opposition and they will cash in on any and every opportunity to undermine PMLN. A casual approach today will spell disaster tomorrow. At the moment PMLN has an edge; NA 122 just vindicated the party but it is pertinent to know that this will not last till the next elections, and may only last till the next mistake. All in all NA 122 has just given PMLN a breather, showed them that they are ahead, and also how hard they need to work in order to stay ahead.

11th October, 2015 also witnessed the demise of PPP in Lahore and Punjab. From 23000 votes in 2008, to 3000 votes in 2013 to less than a thousand votes in 2015, PPP has descended into the darkest depths of irrelevance and insignificance in Punjab’s political landscape.

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