Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) had been in power since 2013 in KPK and it swept the controversial 2018 general election in the province by close to a two-thirds majority. Call it a result of internal strife or mask it as bad decision making regarding ticket distribution, the defeat of the ruling party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) local body elections was inevitable due to reasons not being purported..
It was evident that any fair elections would make the people’s will echo loud and clear. In the first phase of KPK’s local government (LG) elections, out of the four city mayor elections, the ruling party did not win a single seat. Peshawar district, where the ruling party is holding on to 11 seats out of the 14 allocated provincial seats, PTI lost the prized city’s mayor seat by a margin of almost 11 thousand votes. The winning candidate of JUI (F) bagged 62,388 votes while the candidate of PTI managed to get 50,669 votes.
If votes from other candidates belonging to Awami National Party (ANP) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) are counted along with JUI(F), the tally will cross well over a hundred thousand. The story was the same in the other three mayors’ elections where PTI lost to ANP in Mardan whereas Kohat and Bannu were also lost to JUI (F). In total, JUI (F) bagged 22 seats, ANP 7, PMLN three, independents snatched eight seats while the party in power with a hefty majority in the provincial assembly and a sitting federal govt only managed to win 14 seats.
The results of the first phase of the LG elections in KPK showed that the so-called popularity of PTI is fast vanishing due to rising inflation, poor delivery, allegations of corruption and an overall general dissatisfaction of the masses under this regime. As stated earlier, you can mask it as infighting or wrong selection, but you cannot deny the 11.5% inflation, squeezing income and skyrocketing prices of petrol, flour, sugar, cooking oil, electricity, etc. hitting the common man right in the gut.
Imran Khan’s government is making the life of the common man miserable by burdening him with taxes and uncontrolled inflation, which, according to the government, is due to the Coronavirus pandemic and a rising trend of inflation internationally. It is a fact that internationally inflation saw a four to five percent increase, not a double-digit hike like ours. It is also a fact that our inflation touched double-digits well before the pandemic knocked on our doors. People are dissatisfied with the government’s performance and they are expressing it through the ballot paper.
Recently, a nationwide survey was conducted by Transparency International. According to the National Corruption Perception Survey 2021, 92.9 percent of Pakistanis “consider inflation and price hike to be the highest in the current PTI government (2018-2021), compared to 4.6 percent in the PML-N government (2013-2018) and 2.5 percent in the PPP government (2008-2013)”. A majority, 50.6%, cited the government’s incompetence as a reason behind inflation and unemployment.
There was a lot of anticipation when this government assumed office, but its popularity started declining right after the July 2018 general elections. As of now, by-elections have been held on 64 national and provincial seats. On 14 October 2018, by-elections were held on 11 national and 25 provincial assembly seats which saw PTI losing three of its National Assembly seats won in the general elections. PTI lost NA 35 Bannu to JUI (F) while PMLN managed to flip two seats, NA 131 Lahore and NA 56 Attock. On the other hand, PTI lost two seats, PK 3 Swat to PMLN and PK 7 to ANP in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. Whereas in Punjab Assembly it lost four seats, PP 222 to an independent candidate and three to PMLN namely: PP 3 Attock, PP 27 Jehlum and PP 292 Dera Ghazi Khan.
In the next by-elections held on 21 October 2018, PTI lost another Khyber PakhtunkhwaAssembly seat PK 71 Peshawar to ANP.
In February 2021, by-elections were held on PK 63 Nowshehra, another Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly seat. Not only did PMLN snatch it from the ruling party, it also increased its vote count from 13,960 in 2018 to 21,208 in 2021. On the other hand, PTI saw a massive dip of 7,500 plus votes on this provincial assembly seat. Also, in April 2021 by-election, PTI lost its NA 249 seat to PPP.
On 5 December 2021, PMLN retained its NA 133 seat in the by-elections which fell vacant due to the sad demise of its senior leader Pervaiz Malik. PMLN fielded the wife of late Pervaiz Malik, Shaista Pervaiz, as its candidate who managed to win this seat for the party in a contest where PTI’s candidate was knocked out from the by-elections on a technical mistake. This can be seen as a deliberate attempt to evade an inevitable defeat, given the fact that the seat belonged to a party that had fielded different candidates in 2008, 2013 and 2018 general elections and they all managed to win the seat for the party. PMLN also increased its vote share percentage out of the total polled votes from 47 percent in 2018 to 58 percent in 2021.
On 16 December 2021, the PMLN also managed to secure its Punjab Assembly seat of PP 206 Khanewal which fell vacant due to the death of its member. The by-election results showed that PMLN’s ticket holder Rana Saleem not only defeated the wife of the deceased, who was contesting on PTI’s ticket, but also manage to increase the winning margin on this seat to at least 10,000 votes. It is noteworthy to mention that this win and the increase in margin came right after the Opposition Leader of the Punjab Assemble, Hamza Shehbaz Sharif’s visit to southern Punjab where he held workers conventions in Multan, Rajanpur and Khanewal.
Apart from this, a 9,000 plus increase in votes could also been seen in the NA 75 Daska by-election compared to the 2018 general elections, Hamza Shahbaz was leading and monitoring the election campaign of this election on the instructions of PMLN’s Quaid, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif.
Since the general elections 2018, a pattern had emerged through these by-polls, and also recently in KPK’s LG phase 1 elections. This pattern is does not paint a pretty picture for the ruling party. PTI’s inabillity to deliver, allegations of corruption, bad governance and unbearable inflation came back to haunt it whenever people got their say through the ballot paper.
PTI’s bling has lost its luster. Several surveys and opinion polls had also indicated that the ruling party has lost its popularity. The next general elections would surely see this pattern of losing, massive dips in popular vote and widening of losing margins amplified and echoed throughout the country.