Desperate strategy

Published February 9, 2022

THE ruling PTI has decided to launch a major public relations effort using ‘Brand Imran’ to lift its sinking political fortunes as the opposition ramps up its efforts, both inside and outside parliament, to oust the government.

The decision made by the PTI’s central executive committee to organise public rallies that will be addressed by Prime Minister Imran Khan himself ostensibly aims at mobilising supporters in the run-up to the crucial LG polls in Punjab and KP where the party suffered substantial losses in the first leg of the local elections.

The party leadership thinks it can sway the voters, who have been heavily impacted by the dire economic conditions under the PTI’s rule, through their direct interaction with the PM. This is open to question. The very fact that PTI leaders want Mr Khan to lead the campaign even for local government polls betrays their nervousness about their party’s electoral chances in view of the public’s frustration.

Admittedly, Mr Khan is the face of the ruling PTI. However, the trouble is that he has little to offer after more than three and a half years in power. It has been a period marked by poor governance, rising cost of living and surging unemployment. A fixation with the so-called accountability of political rivals and empty anti-corruption slogans won’t be enough to resurrect his party’s popularity. That the man on the street isn’t happy with the economic performance of his government is a reality and, under these circumstances, anti-opposition campaigns cannot win over public support.

Read: Tracking Naya Pakistan — Three years into power, here's where PTI stands on some of its promises

Unfortunately, the present rulers want to brush the growing discontent under the carpet. They are not willing to admit that the slogans and promises that worked in the 2018 elections are unlikely to appeal to the majority of voters now. Nothing elicits wider public backing for a ruling political party like economic prosperity and good governance.

The PTI is also facing another problem. The events of the last few months — such as its tensions with the military leadership over the appointment of the ISI chief and losses in the cantonment board elections and the local polls in KP— have cast the government in a vulnerable light. Sensing an opportunity, the major opposition parties are again coming closer to join forces in order to send the government home. That is not all.

Some of the PTI’s allies in the ruling coalition in Islamabad and Punjab are also increasing their contacts with the PML-N and PPP to explore opportunities for cooperation if and when the chips are down for the ruling party. Politics is all about perception and voters are quick to notice the cracks in government. The use of the Imran Khan brand to boost public support for the PTI may appear to be a clever move. But it is no substitute for good governance and better management of the economy.

Published in Dawn, February 9th, 2022

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