After all that chaos and social media rants over judicial coup, military intervention, and the dawn of corruption-free Pakistan, the new Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former Petroleum Minister and close aide of Nawaz Sharif, has taken oath for an interim period of 45 days. Earlier it was reported that in interim period, former Prime Minister Sharif’s younger brother and Chief Minister of Punjab will make his road to PM House through winning the election from the National Assembly seat of Lahore which has been vacated after the verdict against Nawaz Sharif. However, Sharif family has now decided to put the things where they are in Punjab and the junior Sharif will complete his term in Pakistan’s biggest province.
All the political parties in Pakistan are stretching muscles for the general elections expected in mid of 2018 and like always Punjab will be the centre stage with its 100 million inhabitants. The win in Punjab will lead any party to power in Islamabad.
In Punjab, politics is split into urban and rural areas. In the mainstream and small cities, the local influence of political families and caste issues affect voting. However, through development work i.e. construction of motorways and city roads along with underpasses at the traffic inflicted areas of Lahore and Faisalabad, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz has an upper hand. PML-N cleverly placed their cards through local bodies’ election in 2015 & in 90% union councils of the province their elected union council chairmen are supervising the municipal work. Most of them are their party workers with comprehensive knowledge of constituency politics.
The other factors in urban politics are trade unions and the religious vote bank. The Deobandi and Barelvi vote bank always finds it favourable to side with Sharif. The leader of Jamat-e-Ahl-e-Hadees Pakistan, Professor Sajid Mir, was elected to senate on a PML-N ticket. It will be the same now but the Sunni vote bank will expectedly criticise Sharif’s call to join after the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri, Sunni organisations are denouncing government and calling for their boycott in the general election. This could affect some urban areas in Lahore; Trade Unions have been split in favour of PTI and PML-N. But the union issue would be addressed near election as whoever would promise to fulfill their demands, they shall go in favour of him.
Second is the rural politics. In rural parts mainstream parties always favour the electables. The local landlords with political and land influence and money power who cannot be defeated just through a popular ticket always become eye stars of political parties. The parties give them tickets and compensate them through ministries afterwards. In areas especially like Rahim Yar Khan and DG Khan, PML-N has the most number of the landlords with it and after the Panama verdict; no voice is still heard about any forward bloc or any defiance by any electable. Even when PM Sharif was on slippery grounds throughout the court hearing, no powerful landlord challenged the leadership of Sharif, which is indeed a political achievement. This time, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has decided to fly with the wind instead of going with its ideological stance of “new Pakistan with all new candidates”. Through taking all former provincial politicians of Pakistan People Party (PPP) and some electables, the political battle would be worth seeing but as for now, PML-N still has an upper hand in rural areas. The watchable effect would be of Punjab CM’s Rural Road Program through which 1400 km roads have been built in rural areas and PML-N is considering this a turning point.
Apart from these two realities of urban and rural voting there is a range of middle class urban vote bank, 15-20% of which is called a popular vote bank. This vote bank usually makes its opinion just before election. Media reporting, campaign in constituency and/or any incident on election time could affect its opinion. Last time, this vote bank favored Sharif as PPP was absent from political campaign and PTI was too immature with polling day tactics. This time, the charges of corruption against Sharif family and references which shall be sent to Accountability Courts by National Accountability Bureau will greatly affect the popular opinion. In case the popular vote bank does not favour Sharif, even then PML-N would be difficult to kick out from Punjab.
As far as political history is concerned, Ex-PM Sharif will try to attract voters through the logic that he’s been victimised and his ineligibility was not the result of corruption but for an undeclared pay which in-actual, he did not deduct from his son’s company though he could have.
The fates of PML-N and PTI hang on the extent of their respective performances in Punjab so both will leave no stone unturned to defeat each other. One thing is clear: PML-N would have to fight really hard for the turban of Punjab which was a cake walk in previous elections.