The list reads like a who’s who of Punjab’s politics — name after name dripping with lineage, electability and notoriety. These are the people that the PTI was formed against, and these are the people who may catapult it into power.
Irony lies buried somewhere in the fertile plains of the land of five rivers.
But one man’s burial is another man’s resurrection — metaphorically speaking. The PTI’s ticket holders for the National Assembly and provincial legislatures, as announced this week, constitute its best chance yet to resurrect its fortunes in the province that matters most.
The province that matters the most now boasts of 141 seats for the National Assembly. That’s 141 out of a total of 272 directly elected seats. Of these 141 seats, 46 are from South Punjab and 95 from Central and Northern Punjab. If the PTI can win more than 70 of these 141 seats, it will be in a very strong position to bring its total tally of seats near the magic number of 100. This will place the PTI in the best position to form the government at the centre.
The PTI’s selection of tickets for Punjab shows the party has done its work in terms of electability. The position of its candidates will become clearer once the PML-N formalises its ticket-holders, but the general sense one gets after scanning the PTI list is that the heavyweights dominate a majority of the constituencies.
In the south, the PTI looks rock solid. Most of the electables worth their name (and reputation) have switched over to the PTI greener pastures. the PTI traded off its ideological strength for these political grandees but it now appears best suited to win a majority of these 46 seats. Many of the strong winning candidates in South Punjab are fresh entrants to the party. They are the same ones who jump from party to party. What they lack in loyalty, they make up in votes. What they lack in integrity, they make up in electability.
Here’s how the electoral landscape looks presently as per the assessments of knowledgeable journalists in these regions:
On all four of Khanewal’s NA seats, the PTI has fielded strong electables. Both Raza Hayat Hiraj and Ahmad Yar Hiraj can pull off victories, while the other two seats may see a tough contest between the PTI and PML-N candidates. On Multan’s six NA seats, the PTI appears strong on at least two and will face a tough fight on the other four. On Vehari’s four seats, the PTI looks strong in all of them. On Bahawalpur’s five seats, the PTI has announced two candidates so far and both are said to be solid electables. On Rahim Yar Khan’s six NA seats, the PTI have winning candidates in at least four constituencies. Muzaffargarh’s six constituencies are expected to see close contests though on two seats the PTI has very strong candidates. On DG Khan’s four seats it looks like a mixed bag, while on Rajanpur’s three seats, PTI candidates appear quite solid. On paper then, the PTI looks like it may reap a rich electoral harvest in South Punjab.
Central Punjab is rich in NA seats. In Gujrat’s four seats, the PTI has decent candidates. Sialkot’s five seats will see a tough contest but the PTI’s Usman Dar and Firdous Ashiq Awan are strong electables. Narowal’s two seats will also witness a close fight as Abrar-ul-Haq and Mian Muhammad Rasheed have strong support. Gujranwala’s six NA seats are considered a PML-N stronghold and yet the PTI has fielded strong electables like Rana Nazir and Bilal Ejaz. Mandi Bahauddin’s two seats can be a toss-up though the PML-N has a potential winner in Nasir Bosal, who was a member of the previous National Assembly. In Sargodha, too, the PTI has picked electables with strong political credentials for the five seats. Khushab (2 seats) will see close contests whereas in Mianwali, the PTI is expected to win both.
Faisalabad is a key battleground boasting 10 NA seats. This is hardcore PML-N territory. But the PTI has placed itself rather well here too by opting for hardened electables. If Faisalabad witnesses tough contests, the PTI could snatch many a precious seat from here and breach the PML-N fortress.
Lahore tops with 14 seats. This still looks like solid PML-N territory because other than a few strong PTI candidates who may put up a fight, the PML-N may win a majority from here.
In Islamabad’s three constituencies, the PTI will likely win two (Imran Khan and Asad Umar). On Attock’s two seats, the PTI looks rock solid with Tahir Sadiq. On Rawalpindi’s seven seats the PML-N still retains strong candidates though the PTI may grab a few victories (Shaikh Rasheed, Ghulam Sarwar Khan), while in Chakwal too the PTI’s latest entrant, Ghulam Abbas, will likely secure a win. Fawad Chaudhry is in a winning position on one of Jhelum’s two seats.
It is obvious from the list of the PTI’s ticket-holders that a lot of thinking, planning and strategising has gone into the final selection. Now three factors remain out there which can have a bearing on the PTI’s performance in Punjab: 1) Final list of PML-N candidates and their strength; 2) Power of Nawaz/Maryam/Shehbaz narrative and whether it can blunt the electables’ strength that the PTI has acquired; 3) Nawaz conviction and its impact on the Punjab voter.
But for now, the PTI’s candidates in Punjab — as is clear from this initial assessment — pack quite a punch. They have also changed the complexion of the PTI from a party of change to a party of status quo. PTI supporters put up a feeble (and naïve) logic that Imran Khan will only use these electables to climb to power and once safely placed on the prime ministerial throne, will not pander to their base politics. If only life — and politics — were that simple.
Here then is the new reality: Today when the PTI wakes up in the morning and looks in the mirror, it sees the PML-N and the PPP staring back.
If ever there was a price for victory — this is it.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2018.