Riding on a newfound, or hard earned, popularity wave in the wake of the landslide victory in the Punjab Assembly seats’ by-elections, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan has come up with another daredevil act. He is going to be the lone face of the PTI in by-elections for the nine National Assembly seats, which the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has announced that the polling would be held on September 25. If he wins all or a few seats, it is going to be an electoral record. Earlier in the 2018 elections, Imran Khan was the only candidate to have contested polls from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad Capital Territories and remained unbeaten. But after being ousted from the Prime Minister House, Imran Khan has, on the one hand, discarded the National Assembly, and, on the other hand, has been taking every by-election very seriously.
No one questions his contradictory politics.
His daring announcement to contest all by-elections must have baffled the ruling parties of Islamabad.
Social media is brimming with voices, calling for the main leadership of big parties to jump into the foray and take the fight head-on. But an election fight is not a street brawl. Candidates evaluate all circumstances before taking a leap as a candidate.
The latest electoral foray of Imran Khan stretches from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Punjab and Sindh. The nine by-election constituencies are NA-22 Mardan, NA-24 Charsadda, NA-31 Peshawar, NA-45 Kurram, NA-108 Faisalabad, NA-118 Nankana Sahib, NA-237 Malir, NA-239 Korangi Karachi and NA-246 Karachi South.
These seats fell vacant after Speaker Raja Pervaiz Asharf “accepted” the resignations of these PTI lawmakers: Ali Muhammad Khan, Fazal Muhammad Khan, Shaukat Ali, Fakhar Zaman Khan, Farrukh Habib, Jamil Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Akram Cheema, Abdul Shakoor Shad and Ijaz Ahmed Shah.
Two seats declared vacated are of Dr. Shireen Mazari and Shandana Gulzar Khan who were elected on reserved seats for women.
This way, Imran Khan has challenged the hegemony of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Aimal Wali Khan and Aftab Sherpao in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Maryam Nawaz and Saad Rizvi in Punjab and Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui in Karachi.
It is yet to be seen how the former lawmakers will convince their constituents to vote for Imran Khan, who is contesting for multiple seats, and that he has announced that after winning seats, he will never go to the National Assembly. In a way, their vote will go nowhere if Imran Khan wins. But electoral politics is beyond logic. People will vote for their favourite leader regardless of their past track record and future vague plans. Everything is fair in election and love.
My gut feeling is that the ruling alliance is playing a gamble, a bad gamble by trying to gauge their electoral standings by carefully choosing nine constituencies. I have heard that the coalition partners marked these areas after going into a careful assessment and ward to ward evaluation. They have worked on the elders and notables of these constituencies. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa constituencies inflicted a severe drubbing on PTI candidates in the recently concluded phases of local council polls. Similarly, the Pakistan People’s Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan are sure to have reconnected to the locals.
But election is a different ballgame, and the way Imran Khan launches formidable electioneering, his party is capable of turning the tables on his rivals. He frustrated the Pakistan Muslim League-N’s careful selection of constituencies in the recent by-elections. Up to 15 electable candidates, who were MPAs until the by-election day, were left to be called former MPAs on the eve of the election days. Imran Khan defeated all live TV anchor polls, which reported PML-N candidates ahead of their rivals.
If by-polls are held, history will see a weird contest and we are proud to watch it.