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10 million votes

June 24, 2018

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YOU need it to win an election. For all the electables you bring on board and the searing rhetoric that is being deployed, you need electoral momentum if you’re going to win.

To be a winner, you have to look like a winner.

But the PTI can’t seem to stop getting in its own way. There’s no point trying to explain why, it seems to be in the party’s DNA: make things more difficult for itself than they have to be.

There’s still time to build a winning momentum. If the PTI seemed plagued with yet more problems and dissent this week, the PML-N wasn’t able to get much done either because of the London situation.

So they’re probably where they both were relative to each other before the Eid break. But there’s just a month left now and once the ballots are finalised at the end of June, the constituency races will be set.

If you, a voter, haven’t voted for the PTI before, why would you vote for the PTI in 2018?

The N-League’s strategy is pretty much set: Nawaz will focus on his travails; Shahbaz will campaign on his record in Punjab; and the rest of the PML-N will focus on modest but obvious delivery.

Whether that’ll work or not, we’ll know on July 25.

But the PTI’s predicament is more interesting. To build momentum in the campaign proper, the party will have to figure out an answer to a question that it hasn’t been able to as yet.

Basically, if you, a voter, haven’t voted for the PTI before, why would you vote for the PTI in 2018?

Part of the answer will be electables. Their reliable voter blocs and constituency machines to gin up turnout could fetch the PTI some new votes.

But as everyone and their aunt has already pointed out, those new votes may come at the cost of a lower turnout in the PTI base disillusioned by the roster of candidates.

The PTI is gambling, and it’s probably right, that the net effect will be positive: the grumbling among the base will likely be compensated for by whatever the electables will add to the PTI voter haul.

How big a net positive that will be we’ll only know on July 25.

But it won’t be wildly over the top. The whole point to electables is that they’re reliable and predictable: while a bad election season could see them decimated, the upper end of voters they can bring is relatively well known.

So, no matter who it fields, the PTI will still have to find an answer to a tricky question: if you, a voter, haven’t voted for the PTI before, why would you vote for the PTI in 2018?

The PTI will need to come up with some compelling reasons for those voters because the party has a whole lot of ground to make up.

Headline numbers don’t necessarily mean much in a first-past-the-post system. PPP got fewer total votes in 2013 than the PTI, but it won more seats than the PTI. And the N-League grabbed nearly five times the seats as the PTI despite having only nearly twice as many total votes.

But headline numbers do mean something.

The winner will need to win at least 10 million votes. The PPP managed 10.7m in 2008 and the PML-N 14.9m in 2013. One was forced into a coalition, the other roped in some independents to assemble a single-party majority and the electorate is larger now.

So 10m votes is a reasonable enough baseline for a winner.

That’s at least 2m more votes than the PTI managed in 2013. The party needs momentum to crack the 10m ceiling and a whole lot more than that if it wants to win a majority.

It needs to start looking like a winner — discipline, focus and staying on message — rather than Imran acting like he’s already won.

Because if a fair assumption is that the PTI will need to get at least 60 per cent of the way to a majority in the National Assembly on its own, Imran and the PTI will have to convince several million more voters than have ever voted for the PTI to vote for the PTI on July 25.

Right now, that seems like an awfully long way off.

You’re registered to vote. Either you’ve never voted before or you’ve voted consistently for a party other than the PTI or you’re an occasional voter.

If you’ve never voted before, what’s the PTI done lately to convince you to turn out on July 25? Remember, it’s a double hurdle with the non-voter: making a decision to vote first and then choosing which party to vote for.

Ditto if you’ve been an occasional voter.

The third category is probably the most difficult for the PTI: getting a habitual voter for one of the other big parties to switch to the PTI.

The implosion of the PPP outside Sindh in 2013 doesn’t leave many old-time PPP votes to switch this time round. And you can guess a PPP switcher in 2018 may lean N-League.

Which leaves the PML-N. Assuming a lacklustre campaign and confusion about who is and will be in charge of the party, you can imagine some dampening of turnout for the N-League.

Which would be good for the PTI but not good enough. To win, the PTI will have to swing a bunch of 2013 PML-N votes in the PTI’s favour. But if you haven’t voted for the PTI before, why would you vote for the PTI in 2018?

The PTI needs to come up with an answer — and fast.

The writer is a member of staff.

cyril.a@gmail.com

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2018