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AWAY from the predictions based on estimates of the current public mood, numbers provide a window to another world altogether. If you were to strictly stick to them, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) has a mountain to climb before it can lay a claim to power in the country.

Our focus here is on Lahore and some nearby districts that are crucial to deciding the winner on July 25. The votes scored by nominees of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in these areas in the 2013 election marked a phenomenal leap from the PML-N’s tally in the 2008 general polls. The margin with which the PML-N beat its then rival, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), in and around coveted Lahore, was large in 2008 as well. But there was a huge increase in the number of ballots that the PML-N polled in 2013, as the city and some nearby parts of Punjab witnessed an almost MQM-like whirlwind of votes for the Sharifs’ candidates.

Mian Nawaz Sharif was among the N-League candidates in the Punjab capital who had the ignominy of securing less than a lakh or a hundred thousand votes. Still, he beat his nearest rival, Dr Yasmin Rashid, by about 40,000 votes. He was joined in the less-than-a-lakh-club by Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, who beat Imran Khan by around 9,000 votes in one of the closest contests in the city, and by Khwaja Ahmed Hassaan, who was the only PML-N nominee who lost in Lahore and went down to Shafqat Mahmood. The two other PML-N candidates who, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s figures, secured less than one lakh votes were Sohail Shaukat Butt, who got the lowest votes out of all N-League candidates.

Winner will have a mountain of numbers to climb

Mr Sadiq and Khwaja Hassaan, like Mian Sahib, had received 90,000-odd votes in their favour. In the rest of the constituencies in Lahore, the PML-N candidates were runaway winners with vote counts well over a hundred thousand.

In NA-118, Lahore-I, a relatively less known N-League man, Muhammad Riaz Malik, defeated PTI’s Hamid Zaman by nearly 60,000 votes. The vote gap between Muhammad Hamza Shabaz Sharif and PTI’s Muhammad Madni in NA-119, Lahore-II, was more than 65,000. In comparison, Mian Nawaz Sharif ‘scraped through’ with a modest lead of some 39,000 votes in NA-120, but in the next constituency, NA-121, his man Mehar Ishtiaq Ahmed easily crossed the one-lakh mark. Mehar Ishtiaq ended up with more than 114,000 votes with PTI’s Barrister Hammad Azhar, son of former governor Mian Azhar, securing a rather impressive 68,000.

These weren’t close races by any stretch of the imagination and it took the might of Imran Khan for the PTI to make a fight of it, in NA-122. Ayaz Sadiq won by taking 93,389 votes, in a controversial result that was to cast a shadow on Pakistani politics for the next five years.

The PML-N returned to its lakh-scoring form in the NA-123 contest. Here the gap between its winning candidate Muhammad Pervez Malik and the PTI’s man was a mind-boggling 85,000 votes and the pattern was continued in the next constituency. In NA-124, Shaikh Rohale Asghar ended up some 75,000 votes ahead of Imran Khan’s handpicked contestant, Walid Iqbal.

In another fight that ended in controversy, Khwaja Saad Rafiq of the PML- N was shown to have beaten Hamid Khan of the PTI by difference of almost 40,000 votes. In NA-126, Khwaja Hassaan of the N-League lost to Shafqat Mahmood by some 7,000 votes but in NA-127, a virtually unknown Sharif flag-bearer, Waheed Alam Khan, came from nowhere to hand a crushing defeat to the PTI nominee. The margin again was more than 55,000 votes.

In NA-128, veteran Karamat Ali Khokhar, contesting on a PTI ticket in 2013, put up a gallant fight, getting more than 78,000, which was a huge improvement on the 37,000 ballots he had polled as a PPP candidate in 2008 against PML-N’s Afzal Khokhar. Only to find Afzal Khokhar reaping a rich and astounding harvest of 124,000 votes.

In the last two constituencies of NA-129 and 130 then, Shahbaz Sharif and Sohail Shaukat Butt were winners by many lengths, both ending up in the vicinity of 90,000 votes, both beating their nearest rivals by 55,000 votes.

The pattern of huge victories pulled off by the PML-N in Lahore was followed in many nearby districts in 2013. In many cases the gap was huge in areas that existed at a distance from the PML-N nucleus of Lahore but the trend was more consistent closer to the Punjab capital: on seats won by the PML-N, the gap between the winner and the nearest rival was generally wide, whereas victories scored by the PTI were by and large by much smaller margins, more likely to the movement of the swing vote the next time round.

For instance, the PML-N won all 10 seats in Faisalabad in the 2013 election, with the PPP, and not the PTI, coming in second on a couple of them. On almost all of these seats, the margin of the PML-N victory was huge. Once again, 88,000 votes, which went to Rajab Ali Baloch in NA-78, Faisalabad-IV, was the smallest tally secured by a Sharif nominee in the city. Generally, the vote count of each PML-N candidate was well over the one-lakh mark. In some cases the margin of their victory was more than 70,000, even 80,000 votes.

These are the figures staring the PTI in the face behind all the noise about the party having almost ensured victory against the PML-N in the 2018 election. It is a tall order and those who predict that the PTI can turn the tables on the formidable PML-N must be basing their forecast on a number of factors.

One, any prediction of a PTI win in areas in and around Lahore, where the PML-N won big in 2013, must give credence to talks that a large number of PML-N voters actually believe that the Sharifs are corrupt or/and they will not be allowed to be in power at this moment in time.

There is a theory going around which says that the court cases against the Sharif family members might leave a large number of the PML-N supporters disheartened to a point where they will not come out to vote on July 25. This assertion must undergo a tough test on Election Day since the PML-N is most famous for its agility and efficiency when it matters, ferrying voters to the polling booths in large numbers.

Two, the projections have to be based on numbers that show that Imran Khan’s popularity graph in the public has risen to a level where it can patch up the huge vote deficit shown in the figures for election 2013. This has to be augmented by ‘proof’ that Imran Khan has already been ‘chosen’ to be the next prime minster of this country.

Three, but not least important, is that the PTI must hope that the impression it sought to create about the 2013 election having been rigged big time is still vivid in the minds of the people. Those were the first elections in which, in many parts of Punjab, candidates had passed crossed the 100,000 vote limit. The feat invited curious questions from all those who found the figures baffling. Some accepted them grudgingly even when the courts found no severe irregularities in the conduct of those polls. The PTI must carry on with the belief that a good number of people had a deep suspicion about these numbers being true.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018