We need to dissect the by-election result of NA-151 to assess whether or not any change in political alignments at the local, provincial and national levels is visible. The election that concluded on July 19 was not like any other by-election. We witnessed active campaigning, mobilisation of local social groups and communities and high-profile social networking among the local influentials. These are some of the major elements that influence elections in Pakistan as much as they influence the party labels.
Good for the PPP so far in that it has succeeded in getting Abdul Qadir Gilani elected. Its leaders may rejoice in the victory but not the poll results in total. First of all, it was an unexpectedly neck-and-neck fight and not really a walkover as the PPP leaders had thought. Mr Shaukat Hayat Bosan, an independent candidate, lost by a margin of only 4,096 votes.
The confidence of the PPP rested on some hard facts. Mr Yousaf Raza Gilani, father of Abdul Qadir, had achieved a great deal of development in this constituency. He also used his position as prime minister to benefit caste, biradari leaders and local landlords from his constituency by providing jobs and using his influence in their favour if and when they needed him. This is one of the tested mechanisms of retaining support within the constituency that the political families call their own.
There is also a perception that some of the PPP propagandists have attempted to popularise; the Seraiki region is solidly with the PPP. The result of NA-151 doesn’t conform to this view. Rather, it may result in sleepless nights for PPP leaders when they prepare to go the next general elections later this year or early next year. Let us see why that may be the case.
In the February 2008 elections, Yousaf Raza Gilani got 77,664 votes against his closest rival, Sikindar Hayat Bosan, who came second with 45,765 votes. The margin of victory for Gilani was very convincing. This time around, it has shrunk to roughly only about 4,000 votes. Shaukat Hayat Bosan, brother of Sikindar has polled about 33 per cent more votes than his brother. There is more to this contest than the traditional rivalry between the political families of the feudal Seraiki region.
The first is the PTI factor, which by all indications is a rising political power. Make no mistakes. The reason Sikindar Bosan didn’t contest is that he has joined the PTI and as per policy of the party he couldn’t be a candidate for the by-election. However, the family couldn’t leave the field open to Gilani. Shaukat Bosan, along with his traditional network of local support, had the new power of the PTI on his side. The difference in the increase for Bosan may also be due to a rage factor against the PPP, for poor governance of which Mr Gilani would be the prime culprit.
The other worrisome situation for the party will be — if formally or informally — like in this by-election, the anti-PPP parties in Punjab and in other provinces support a single candidate. It is true that the PPP has preserved its constituency through all it troubles and travails but voters cannot be expected to go by emotions and feelings of old loyalty alone. They want something on the table, a decent living, security and hope for a better future.
At the moment, I am not sure if two electoral alliances will emerge for the next national elections. One can be certain about the PPP and its allies but not so sure about the PTI and the PML-N. In the three-way contests, the prospects for the PPP may not be that gloomy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2012.