Pakistan: Imran Khan's wow factor fades in by-election

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – Soaring inflation, internal rifts, and a poor choice of candidates led the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party to an unexpected defeat in Sunday's crucial by-election, analysts said.

An otherwise demoralized opposition bounced back in the by-elections, taking several seats from the PTI, mainly in Punjab, the country’s most populous province.

According to official results, PTI lost three national and five provincial assembly seats it had won in the general election in July this year.

The main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), of three-time premier Nawaz Sharif has added three national and four provincial assembly seats to its ranks.

Two of these seats — from northeastern Lahore and southwestern Bannu — had been won by Prime Minister Imran Khan. After winning a historic five seats in July, Khan vacated all but one, as required by law.

“This is a major setback for the PTI, which had been welcomed by the people with high expectations after July [general] elections,” Salman Ghani, a Lahore-based political commentator, told Anadolu Agency.

Khan's PTI emerged as the single largest party in the general election, marred by allegations of rigging, and formed a coalition government in August with the help of smaller parties.

“The PTI came to power with three major promises: to bring about a political change, across the board accountability, and relief to the poor. But unfortunately, it has so far failed to deliver on these fronts,” Ghani said.

He was referring to a sharp increase in the prices of essential commodities due to a depreciation of the rupee against the U.S. dollar in recent days and a widespread perception that only opposition members are being penalized in the name of accountability.

– Unrealistic claims

Amir Zia, a Karachi-based commentator on politics and economy, sees a clash between unrealistic claims and public expectations as a major reason behind the PTI’s defeat.

“[PTI’s] stakes were very high. They had made promises, which in my view were not realistic and practicable, mainly on economy,” Zia told Anadolu Agency.

"Fifty days are usually not enough to judge the performance of a government. But the PTI government remains unluckier as it had to bear the fall out of the previous governments’ performances," he said.

Khan during his election campaign claimed he would prefer to commit suicide rather than go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for loans. Not long after he approached the Fund for a $10-15 billion bailout package to prop up the dismal economy.

Zia added a poor choice of candidates coupled with internal differences as another major factor behind a sudden decline in PTI’s support.

“They [candidates] had joined [the party] before the by-elections and managed to get party tickets," he said, adding that the non-political move disappointed loyalists.

Kamal Hyder, an Islamabad-based political analyst, agreed.

“A poor choice of candidates and minus-Imran Khan factor knocked down the PTI in several constituencies that it had won earlier,” he said.

– No imminent threat

Analysts agree the by-election performance will not immediately threaten the government.

“The by-elections results are a wakeup call for the PTI. But there is no imminent threat to the government’s existence as neither the opposition nor the people want a brisk change just after two months," Ghani said.

The PTI is currently ruling with a slight margin in the center and Punjab with the help of allied parties.

“Despite loss of some crucial constituencies, it would not be fair to say that it’s end of the day for PTI. All the stakeholders want this government to continue,” Hyder said.

They agreed the by-election outcome is an encouraging sign for a demoralized PML-N whose leaders are facing multiple corruption inquiries and cases.

"This result is a gush of fresh air for the PML-N. Its worker is charged and his moral boosted," Ghani said.

“No doubt, it is a recovery sign for the PML-N. It will play its card more effectively now," Hyder said.

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