In a contest seen as a battle between the ruling Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the PTI, which was ousted from government this April through a no-confidence vote backed by the former, Imran Khan’s party has turned out a winner in yesterday’s by-poll, following up on its resounding victory in the July 17 Punjab by-election.
While the ruling multi-party coalition, which includes the PML-N and the PPP, fielded joint candidates on all seats, PTI Chairman Imran Khan was his party’s sole candidate on seven of the eight National Assembly (NA) seats.
The PTI managed to secure six out of eight NA seats in the crucial by-election on Sunday, losing two seats to the PPP — NA-157 Multan and NA-237 Karachi — which it had won in the 2018 general elections. Meanwhile, the party also won two out of three Punjab Assembly seats up for grab, with the PML-N reclaiming its own seat in Sheikhupura.
Many pointed out that yesterday’s election once again showed that the PML-N’s voter base had taken a hit as it mimicked its performance in the July 17 Punjab by-election.
“Be it July’s by-polls or the latest election, the PML-N continues to lose [influence] in cities called its strongholds — Lyallpur, Sheikhupura and Lahore,” journalist Ajmal Jami noted. He said the reasons behind the PML-N’s downfall were “a significant decrease in the youth vote bank, the absence of an alternative narrative and inflation”.
Journalist Cyril Almeida also noted that the PML-N had faced the most damage to its political capital.
“The PML-N destroying its vote base and eviscerating its political capital in a few short months is a truly monumental achievement in the history of Pakistan politics.”
On the other hand, while PTI leaders saw the resounding victory as a referendum against the ruling coalition, others have raised questions over the party losing two seats to the PPP, particularly in Multan where the nomination of Shah Mahmood Qureshi’s daughter, Meher Bano Qureshi, on a seat vacated by her brother was seen as a contradiction to PTI’s long-held stance against dynastic politics.
“Multan loss is a reminder by voters to Shah Mahmood Qureshi that awarding ticket to his daughter instead of a party worker is not acceptable,” journalist Mubashir Zaidi tweeted after the announcement of initial results.
Journalist Asma Sherazi saw the PTI losing two seats to the PPP as an interesting development.
“Malir [and] Multan situation is now almost clear, remember all seats were won by PTI in 2018 elections … interesting times,” she said.
However, journalist Hamid Mir pointed out that this time around, the PPP and the PML-N had fielded a joint candidate in Multan, which theoretically should have translated into a lot more votes for the PDM.
“In the 2018 general election, the PPP candidate received 70,000 votes and the PML-N candidate bagged 62,000 votes from this [Multan] constituency. So these votes should have added up for the joint PDM candidate Ali Musa Gilani. On the other hand, because the PTI chief went against his own narrative by fielding the daughter of Shah Mahmood Qureshi, the PTI did not receive as many votes,” Mir said.
According to Mir, PTI had lost the Multan seat because of conflicts within the party and not because of Ali Musa Gilani’s popularity, adding that the party could have won the election in Multan had it fielded a candidate from outside Qureshi’s family.
Mir, like several others, noted that the results were a blow to the PML-N. “They paint the PML-N as a party that evades elections. It would not be able to contest the next elections without its allies’ support.”
“In this light, it is a big political victory for Imran,” he added.
Senior journalist Mazhar Abbas, meanwhile, saw “possible internal party conflicts” on some seats for all parties.
“Soul searching required,” he said in a tweet.
PTI leaders, on the other hand, trumpeted the results as a confirmation of the nation’s support to them.
PTI’s Meher Bano Qureshi, who lost a seat vacated by her brother to Ali Musa Gilani in Multan, saw the overall election result as a “vote of confidence” for the PTI.
“13 parties V Imran Khan: Pakistan has spoken with a huge vote of confidence for [the] PTI [and] Kaptaan Imran Khan,” she tweeted, expressing the resolve to continue to serve the people in NA-157, where she lost.
PTI leader and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa minister Taimur Khan Jhagra called on the ruling coalition to resign and hold early elections.
“Regime change or no regime change, any govt with any honour and any democratic norms would now have resigned and called a general election,” he said.
PTI leader Shireen Mazari also called for general elections, saying the result reflected that people were choosing to fight for “Haqiqi Azadi” (true freedom).
“The repeated rejection by the people of this cabal of crooks inflicted on us by US regime change conspiracy shd have sent a resounding and clear message to all conspirators. General Elections are the only solution. The nation has suffered enough & has chosen to fight for Haqiqi Azadi!” she tweeted.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister and PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari congratulated the winners from his party, Ali Musa Gilani and Hakeem Baloch, for defeating Imran from seats “he had stolen in 2018 elections”.
PML-N MPA Hina Parvez Butt said Imran should be worried by the results.
“Despite calling himself a leader, he won by such a small margin and lost two seats they won in 2018. Imagine if another candidate and not Imran had contested in by-polls, what would have happened to him.”