PESHAWAR: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf popularity bubble burst in Peshawar on Thursday as the local residents either stayed home or went to the polling stations to vote against the nominee of Imran Khan’s party for the by-election in the local NA-1 constituency.
The newly-emerged PTI not only lost NA-1 seat in the by-polls but also shed around 60,000 votes in a short span of three months as its candidate, Gul Badshah, received 29,600 votes compared with the general elections when the party chief had polled over 90,000 votes in the constituency.
PTI which had won all four NA seats and 10 out of total 11 seats of the provincial assembly from Peshawar in the general elections could not retain its position in the by-polls. There was no enthusiasm among the party workers to bring voters to the polling stations compared to general elections.
Unlike the general elections, overcharged workers and ‘Tabdeeli Razaqar’ tying red and green bands of PTI around their heads and playing loud music were almost invisible. There were no long queues of voters and even some polling stations, especially women polling stations were deserted. On the other hand, workers of ANP were in an aggressive mode.
Imran had defeated Ghulam Ahmad Bilour in the general elections with a huge margin. He had gained 90,500 votes against Ghulam Bilour who bagged 24,468 votes.
But this time around, voters in NA-1 showed the mirror to Imran. His candidate Gul Badshah obtained only 29,600 votes while Ghulam Bilour received 34,386 votes. Ghulam Bilour was also supported by its arch rival Pakistan Peoples Party and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F.
Political observes say the low turnout was major factor in the victory of Ghulam Bilour against Gul Badshah. The number of the voters in NA-1 is around 300,000, but the turnout in by-poll remained 12 per cent. There are several reasons for the disappointment of voters.
Voters in NA-1 say PTI dug its own grave by allocating a ticket to a controversial figure whose nomination sparked controversy within the party ranks and files. Muhammad Aqil, a voter in NA-1, is not registered worker of PTI, but he and his entire family had voted for Imran Khan in the general election, because of Imran and his lieutenants “rhetoric” to bring change.
“This time my entire family voted for Ghulam Bilour, because of the rude attitude of the PTI chief and his MNAs and MPAs,” he said.
Voters complained that Imran Khan took Peshawarites for granted by surrendering NA-1 and an outsider who they believed was an Afghan national was given the party ticket.
“Nomination of Gul Badshah created an impression that nobody in Peshawar was capable to contest the by-election,” he said, adding that the PTI chief’s attitude forced the people to give vote to the ANP candidate.
The award of ticket to Gul Badshah created an impression in urban people that there was dearth of competent candidate and voters expressed their anguish by not going to polling stations, he said.
PTI lawmaker from Peshawar Javed Nasim said the party leadership and workers were ‘overconfident’ that they would easily sweep elections again.
“There was no planning and arrangements for bringing voters to polling stations,” he said.
Another reason for the defeat, he alleged was the that administration was not fair and Ghulam Bilour had bought voters.
Dr Syed Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, who teaches in the Department of International Relations, University of Peshawar, said rifts within the party and the three months performance of the provincial government had exposed PTI.
“Before the general elections, PTI had mesmerised educated and urbanised a lot of the society with the slogan of change. People expected revolutionary changes and end of status quo, but PTI disappointed the silent majority through its poor performance,” he said.
Like other political parties, the PTI ministers and leaders also continued the same status quo and therefore, people decided to stay at home on polling day, he said.