Political stunt

Published August 7, 2022

OUSTED PM Imran Khan is attempting to make a very expensive point with his decision to contest all nine National Assembly seats going up for by-election on Sept 25. To recap, these nine general seats (as well as two reserved seats for women) were formally vacated after the controversial acceptance of the resignations of only 11 PTI MNAs recently by the National Assembly Speaker.

While the NA Speaker gave no rationale for his decision, the move seemed aimed at deflating some of the pressure for early elections that had been created by the en masse resignation of over 100 PTI lawmakers in April.

Read: Taking bets on polls in 2023

However, the PTI chief has now come up with a counter-strategy: pit himself in all nine by-elections announced and, in case he wins one or more seats, nullify the entire exercise by ensuring that by-elections have to be held on the same seats again and again. Mr Khan has thereby turned the by-election into a personal referendum. Victory along the lines of the July 17 by-polls in Punjab would give his narrative strong validation and a chance to thumb his nose at critics.

However, Mr Khan has no real interest in actually representing his voters in parliament at the moment. Therefore, this seems like an unnecessary attempt to stay relevant at the expense of the state exchequer. One also wonders what his strategy would be if by-elections were to be announced on all the seats vacated: would Mr Khan nominate himself as the PTI’s sole candidate on all 100 or so seats? Quite the farce that would be.

Meanwhile, the animus between the PTI chairman and the chief election commissioner that has been made central to the party’s discourse is also worth a review. It seems quite hypocritical considering that Mr Khan accepts that he endorsed Sikandar Sultan Raja’s appointment, even if at the advice of the establishment. Yet, regardless of who made what recommendations, as a leader, he must take full responsibility for his decision. Considering how many years his party spent gloating and stressing the same point when the then opposition had protested against the heavy-handedness of former NAB chief Javed Iqbal, it does not behove Mr Khan to now cry foul.

By inviting supporters to take part in an attempt to also sabotage the Election Commission’s mandate, he is setting a dangerous precedent. The exercise, if it succeeds, may turn people even more distrustful of and hostile to the electoral process. The move may drive home the point that the PTI is willing to go to any lengths to force a general election, but it is ultimately a destructive endeavour that will waste public resources and undermine the spirit of the democratic system. The PTI chief has already been propagating his political message through rallies and jalsas; why can’t he continue to seek public validation through such events?

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2022

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