The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf has won six out of eight National Assembly seats and two of three Punjab Assembly seats in a by-election, boosting its position in the legislature of the country’s largest province. We asked Aaj News analyst and Faisla Aap Ka host Asma Shirazi a few questions about Sunday’s outcome.
Has the by-election outcome increased/decreased the possibility of talks between the government and PTI?
Asma Shirazi: Imran Khan’s target is not this government. His target is the Establishment. He wants to engage them through pressure tactics. The Long March is a big pressure tactic, which he can deploy any time by the end of October.
How and why may by-election results dissuade the PTI from marching on Islamabad?
Asma Shirazi: Imran Khan has called the by-election a “referendum” but the problem is that he is not going to attend the National Assembly at any cost. He just wants to gauge his credibility and popularity and whether he is the new power. To see if he is the most important in power corridors. He wanted to pressure the Establishment to come to the table, but they aren’t. That was the real purpose behind this move: he wanted negotiations, on his terms and that too before the COAS’s appointment, and elections before the army chief’s appointment.
The government could have further slashed the petrol tax (PDL) on Oct 15 to improve its chances at polling stations. Instead the PDL was jacked up by nearly Rs14 per litre. Why did the government fail to take the ‘right’ decision? Who should be blamed for it?
Asma Shirazi: There are no two opinions on this: they lost the election because of inflation. They are holding the by-election because of inflation. They don’t have a strategy, and they are really stuck. On one hand are the IMF conditions, on the other hand there is the election, constituency politics. There is no narrative as well. So, the PDM parties (not the PPP) are under pressure over giving people some relief. This is the problem linked to your next question.
Reports suggest that Maryam Nawaz is being criticized for not running a political campaign for the by-election. Has it anything to do with the rift in the party?
Asma Shirazi: The PDM folks did not deliberately run an effective electoral campaign because they knew they would not win. They did not fight. On the other hand, Imran Khan winning, I don’t see that he has gained as such. His popularity would have been clear if people from his party had stood in the by-election. As you know only Meher Bano stood. She lost by a wide margin. Maryam should have come but they are thinking this is not the last battle. So they are keeping all their cards close to their chest before elections.