The votes have been counted, the results are in — but have the protagonists learned anything?

Elevating politics to a gladiatorial contest has many downsides and the extraordinarily intense, often hyperbolic campaigns in Lahore demonstrated the problem with the direction that national politics has taken.

Sadly, the PTI remains the chief culprit, and it is with that party’s leadership that the story must begin. For years now, the PTI’s politics of agitation have held the country virtually hostage. The historic Lahore rally that brought hundreds of thousands of residents out on the streets and caused a political earthquake occurred four years ago this month.

Ever since, the PTI has relentlessly pursued its confrontational, aggressive brand of politics. For its efforts, the PTI has won a great deal of support and established itself as the second-largest political party in the country. But the party appears to have hit a wall, both in terms of ideas and public support.

Also read: PML-N, PTI in introspective mood after close contests

Ultimately, what did the PTI achieve in Lahore? It picked up an extra provincial assembly seat, PP-147, and gave the May 2013 winner in a National Assembly constituency, NA-122, a brief scare.

Perhaps Imran Khan believes that the PTI’s best chance at success in the next general election is to keep the political waters churning at all costs until then. But it does not appear to be working.

The PTI does not seem to be getting any closer to its goal of overthrowing the PML-N from its dominant position in Punjab. That is likely because the party has increasingly become a caricature of its original self.

When the PTI suffers repeated electoral losses, it is because the democratic process is flawed and corrupt; all opponents of the PTI are either corrupt or anti-Pakistan; only the PTI represents all that is good and true about politics and politicians. The PTI’s brand of politics has become self-indulgent and pitiful. The voting public does not appear to be impressed.

However, neither is the voting public as impressed with the PML-N as the party would like the country to believe.

Despite having mobilised federal ministers and family members, the duo of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were unable to score the convincing victory in Lahore that they so clearly craved.

Given the relentless negativity of the PTI and the allegedly pro-people, delivery-focused governments of the PML-N at the centre and in Punjab, the PML-N should have comfortably won both the Lahore by-elections and the one in Okara too.

The PML-N leadership’s obsession with the PTI appears to have blinded its leadership to problems in both substance and message when it comes to the PML-N’s governance record. The public appears to be looking for something more than either the PTI or the PML-N is offering at the moment. Both parties would be better off listening to the public more and raging at each other less.

Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2015

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