THE cantonment board elections are over and their results offer an opportunity for introspection to all major political parties. The unofficial election results show that the major parties have made some gains but also suffered losses. Even though the ruling PTI was ahead of its rivals in the Sunday election and won the most seats, 63, from 212 wards of 41 cantonments, emerging as the only party with a presence in all four provinces, its showing in Punjab and KP — the two provinces it rules — left much to be desired. There are a number of reasons for the PTI’s poor performance in Punjab ranging from a leadership crisis to infighting to the negative impact of bad economic conditions and inflation on the people. It was therefore no surprise that it trailed far behind its main rival, the PML-N, in the province with 31 seats. Though the PML-N surprised many by bagging the most seats, 48, from the most populous province, it needs to analyse the factors for its defeat in places like Gujranwala. That is not all. The party, which has thrice won the national elections since the early 1990s, should be deeply concerned about its relegation to the status of a regional party by clinching just 11 seats from outside Punjab.

Likewise, the PPP, which has improved its standing in Karachi in recent months, essentially remains a party confined to Sindh since the 2013 general elections. Would it succeed in upturning its fortunes outside Sindh in 2023? Not many expect the party, which once took pride in being a unifying national force, to pull it off any time soon. Surprisingly, the independents have emerged as the third biggest group with 51 seats, grabbing 29 more seats than the combined tally of the smaller political parties, including MQM, BAP, the Jamaat and ANP. The voting trends emerging from the cantonment polls may not hold in the next general elections. Yet these are largely consistent with and reflect the current standing of different parties. It is now up to the leadership of these parties how they intend to change voters’ perceptions about them for improving their chances in the next polls. More importantly, the smooth organisation of the cantonment polls is expected to push the demand for the revival of local governments across the provinces. After all, what justification do the provincial governments have for further delaying the revival of local democracy when cantonments can have it?

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2021

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