ISLAMABAD: Dejected over the “unexpected defeat” at the hands of a political minnow, many in the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) believe that the people of Lodhran have shattered the myth that money and electables are a must to win elections.
Asked to analyse the causes for the party’s defeat in the Lodhran by-election, a number of PTI leaders and office-bearers say that it was perhaps because of the fact that the party had left the entire scheme of things — from selection of the candidate to running of the campaign — to former secretary general Jahangir Tareen believing that he had enough financial resources to win the seat for his son.
Moreover, the PTI leaders admit that they were “over-confident” about the outcome of the by-election because of two reasons — the huge victory margin of around 40,000 votes in the previous election that had been won by Jahangir Tareen and the nomination of an “unelectable and unfamiliar” candidate by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N.
In a surprising turn of events, PML-N candidate Syed Iqbal Shah on Monday won the NA-154 by-election in Lodhran with a sizeable margin of some 25,000 votes against his strong rival Ali Tareen, the son of Jahangir Tareen. According to the unofficial results announced by the Election Commission of Pakistan, Iqbal Shah secured 113,827 votes against some 91,000 votes obtained by Ali Tareen.
The National Assembly seat had fallen vacant after Jahangir Tareen was disqualified for being “dishonest” by the Supreme Court in December last year.
“We had won the seat previously by a margin of over 40,000 votes and now we have lost it by 25,000 votes. This turnaround of about 65,000 votes is a matter of serious concern for the party,” said a senior leader of the PTI.
Talking to Dawn on condition of anonymity, he said that the Lodhran by-poll should be an eye-opener for the party leadership which mostly kept financial background in mind at the time of awarding party tickets.
“Money is not everything. You need to be with the people of the constituency instead of carrying out aerial visits,” he said while taunting Mr Tareen for frequently using a helicopter during his visits to the constituency and the election campaign.
Even on election day, he said, Mr Tareen had come to a polling station on his helicopter to cast his vote and this action would not have been appreciated by the voters standing in queues at polling stations.
Another PTI leader said that the sugarcane price factor had also played a major role in the party’s defeat as there had been resentment among the growers because of the refusal of the sugar mill owners to pay them good price for their crop. Since Mr Tareen was also known as one of the richest sugar mill owners, the area people might have shown their anger over this policy, he added. The PTI leader admitted that the party leadership had not followed the normal procedure of selecting and nominating the candidate through a parliamentary board and alleged that the decision to nominate Ali Tareen as the party candidate had been made by the top party brass without proper consultations.
On the other hand, PTI’s newly-appointed information secretary Fawad Chaudhry claimed that Ali Tareen had been nominated as the party candidate after thorough consultations and keeping in view the local political dynamics, adding that the party still believed that Ali Tareen was the best choice as the party candidate.
Terming the outcome of the by-poll an “upset”, he said that the results were not in accordance with their expectations.
Asked about the reasons for the party’s defeat, he said that actually the result had come “as per trend and not as per expectation”, explaining that the PTI normally won by-elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PPP in Sindh and the PML-N in Punjab. He said the PTI would definitely analyse the results and try to remove its weaknesses.
Meanwhile, it is believed that the PML-N’s strategy to make its elected parliamentarians, ticket aspirants for coming general elections and local government representatives work for the success of its candidate in NA-154 by-poll had also paid off.
According to Lodhran PML-N president Tahir Ameer Ghauri, the party’s strategy to field Mr Shah instead of Siddique Baloch had also worked in the by-election. Siddique Baloch had won the seat as an independent candidate in 2013 but lost the 2015 by-election against Jahangir Tareen as a PML-N nominee.
Mr Ghauri said that all PML-N MPAs, chairmen of union councils and even the councillors worked hard for the success of the party candidate. He said that Mr Baloch was a disputed candidate who even tried to ditch the party by withdrawing from the contest when the date for submitting nomination papers was over.
He said that Pir Rafiuddin Shah, who was angry and even had refused to talk to Hamza Shahbaz, declared support to the PML-N candidate after Shahbaz Sharif talked to him on phone and assured him of the party ticket for PP-211 in the forthcoming general election.
A local PTI leader, Malik Riaz Arain, alleged that the government, which already had launched a number of development projects in the district, had held out assurances to public representatives of the area of more funds for the welfare projects. He admitted that the pre-election assessment given by various supporters of Ali Tareen had proved wrong. “The defeat provides us an opportunity to rectify our mistake which we made in the by-election,” he said.
Shakeel Ahmad from Multan also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2018