What are Imran Khan’s Chances?

Raza Habib Raja

I will be lying, if I underestimate the PTI show in Lahore. No matter, how cynical you are, grand rallies like these never fail to impress.

Imran Khan is back and with a bang. In an eerily similar way to 30th October 2011 ( when he came out of age and announced himself as a potential political force), I once again witnessed an inspiring display of patriotism and passion. I have differed with Imran and continue to differ in terms of ideological leanings, but I do appreciate the effect he is having on urban Pakistan.

Many of my close friends actually attended the rally and as I go through the pictures, I am actually impressed. I like the fact that many of our urban middleclass professionals instead of looking towards a benevolent dictator are actually getting politically mobilized.

Yes, I may have a disagreement with their choice, but I respect them for becoming politically participative.

This rally, as rightly indicated by several political commentators, was a do or die thing. There is absolutely no doubt that PTI was losing steam and one of the major reasons was continuous loss of anti PPP vote to PML (N).

This particular dynamic has to be kept in mind. Although PTI and PML (N) have their own vote bank but these parties also capture anti PPP vote in the urban areas of Punjab. This anti PPP vote is generally not “committed” to any particular party but merely throws its weight towards the alternative which has a better chance of winning against PPP.

I remember that in 1997, when PTI was launched, many though ideologically in line with PTI and despite respecting Imran Khan, decided not to vote for him because they feared that PPP would benefit due to “split” vote.

Many a times, I have heard individuals claiming that despite respecting Imran, they had never voted for the fear of “wasting” their vote. However, Imran’s successful rally on 30th October 2011 suddenly changed it and many who had been sitting on the fences decided to rope in.

In recent months, this kind of voter had again started to drift away as PTI remained low and PML N scored heavy by election victories. The combination of these two developments also dented PTI’s prospects with the aforementioned type of voter in Punjab. In fact, PML (N) gained a lot of ground from July 2012 to March 2013 as indicated by several surveys with the latest one actually displacing PTI from second position to third behind PPP.

This rally was extremely important to PTI to stop and then reverse this momentum in the urban areas. Imran’s timely and successful rally may have just done that. However, it remains to be seen whether this would actually translate into any sort of electoral victory.

In my opinion, Imran Khan’s PTI does stand a good chance in urban Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Urban Punjab also has a sizeable youth population and by and large is ideologically conservative. However, around 100 seats come from rural Punjab where politics is all about local influences and darha bandi. These areas have remained frozen in time and as the by elections prove that May 2013 may not witness a change in the pattern.

Here clearly PPP and PML (N) have the advantage. In fact, many of the recent locally influential entrants in PTI have left it and joined PML N further bolstering its electoral prospects. Moreover the two political parties have the better organizational apparatus at the grass root level to actually mobilize and bring voters on the election day to the polling station.

To overcome this obvious disadvantage, Imran Khan may have to do what Bhutto did in 1970. His sweeping victory in 1970 dislodged many local politicians against the predictions. Bhutto travelled extensively and conducted rallies at smaller cities and even villages. But, in some ways he was acting in a political vacuum as there were no established mainstream POPULAR political parties. However, the time is short for Imran as elections are less than two months away and he will be competing against PPP and PML (N), who are well entrenched and contrary to what PTI trolls believe, are popular also.

So while my friends may yell “Tsunami” and revolution at the top of their voices, the actual reality may play out very differently.

Comments are closed.