Amir MateenImran Khan’s rally in Lahore has kicked-off the election campaign in a highly spirited way that will be difficult for his rivals to match - not just in numbers but also in vigour.Even Hollywood would not have been able to create the ambience – a multitude of charged crowd crying hoarse with constant sloganeering, the thunder, lightning and drizzle. Men, women, the young and the old dancing on the music beat of popular songs.
Imran Khan had such a spell that everybody stayed despite rain.Good that Khan did not bore the frenzied crowd with policy matters that are the stuff for academics. Most of what he said was rhetoric about not lying, finishing off injustice and all those customary election slogans. But he was heard with rapt attention.This is perhaps that advantage that Imran Khan has over his rivals. He is untested so people can believe him. Asfi Zardari and Nawaz Sharif have a huge baggage to defend from earlier government if they make similar promises.
No matter how rulers think about their days in government, people always have a different memory — something that Musharraf may also find out today.That Imran Khan has charisma may be the biggest understatement. And he has learnt the art of oratory. Political workers may come to attend the rallies of Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif but they do not come to just see them or listen to what they see. It always seems as the same old speech that they have heard Asif and Nawaz made hundred times.
Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari may roughly be of the same age as Imran Khan but somehow do not come across as the youthful ‘oldie’ Khan does. Call it beauty, his hair or charms, the way he sways crowd, particularly women and the youth nobody among the existing lot of Pakistani politicians can do that. Altaf Bhai would like to think himself a bigger star but nobody outside the remote-controlled MQM hierarchy would agree.
However, the biggest question remains how much of this will translate into electoral vote. You can give Imran Khan the credit for putting across the basic equation of the election before the public right at the start: Will the traditional ‘electables’ representing biradris, feudal and pressure groups win or the PTI will be able to sway the elections towards its mantra of ‘change.’ Of course, the PTI also tried the ‘electables’ model, in the process of winning over the likes of Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Javed Hashmi.
But it’s now reverting back to popular politics - partially because it could not gather enough heavy weights. In the given situation, PTI’s best shot is if it could nudge the electoral discourse also towards its popular mode of rhetorical politics. That being the case, the beginning may not have been bad.The electoral situation in other provinces, as we see it, is less hazy. Multiple political parties jostle for power in their respective power pockets as it is happening in Balochistan electoral situation.
With MQM dominating Karachi and partially Hyderabad, the Sindh rural contest is largely about how many seat will the PPP lose to the odd mixture of nationalists, PML-N led by PML-F. The Khyber Pashtunkhwa is a total mess as five parties strive for local alliances with PTI upsetting the traditional equation. The Saraiki belt too is largely a contest between PPP and PML -N.
However, the buck stops in Punjab, especially in the central belt between Attock and Khanewal that encompasses 107 electoral seats. While the PML-Q stalwarts jump the ship, the PPP seems to have given up in Punjab. The PTI may give the PML-N run for their money in cities but as things stand today, the PML-N dominates the rural Punjab heartland. The PTI will need to do something real creative to empower its mostly diminutive candidates here. This amounts to bringing about a revolution that might threaten the very political and social structure as it did in the 1970s.
This is easier said than done. But it’s also not the same old Nawaz League-PPP way the electoral cookie will crumble this time. But the PTI’s rally has proved one thing: it’s a long see-saw of electoral politics from now on.The mammoth PTI rally may have already had some impact. It will have some edge in having local alliance that particularly matters in the KP. Those who have already crossed over to other parties may become doubtful about their decisions again. The indecisive fence-sitters, for instance the Legharis, may rethink again. More important, it will reinvigorate the PTI cadres.Even if one takes the PTI claim about having seven million members with a pinch of salt, the figure of 80,000 office-bearers is impressive. This amounts to a massive machinery that should matter in the election.But this seems a long haul of at least 15-round contest for sure. I give the first round to PTI.