NA-154 was a litmus test for PTI – perhaps Imran Khan should stop relying on patronage politics

Published: February 14, 2018

There is no doubt that Ali Tareen had an added advantage, being the son of Jahangir Khan Tareen, a well-known political and business figure.

While the fraudulent Sharif clan haven’t recovered from the aftermath of the Panama verdict and are still facing National Accountability Bureau (NAB) cases, the battle of NA-154 by-poll has ended in a mammoth victory for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). To some extent, this result is not surprising.

The trend of previous by-polls suggests that people typically prefer to vote for the ruling party. However, victory of a new candidate against Ali Tareen is a major setback for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

This election was a litmus test for PTI, particularly for Jahangir Khan Tareen, whose politics was on stake after disqualification from the apex court. After disqualification, many thought PTI Chief Imran Khan will distance himself from Jahangir, at least for some time, however, PTI decided to give the ticket to Jahangir’s son Ali instead. The media and many supporters of PTI vastly criticised this decision. Many PTI media representatives kept defending this decision and were clarifying how this move is not the “dynastic politics” which Imran has always spoken against. Many were also seen rather glorifying it.

There is no doubt that Ali had an added advantage, being the son of a well-known political and business figure. One may wonder why PTI decided to go against its core ideology in a by-poll, just few months before the general election. Perhaps it was to sail back the sinking ship of Tareens. They say “every man has a price” but I rather say “every decision has a price” and I shall reiterate this now.

There is clearly no apparent hope that a middle class educated man can become a leader in any of the major political parties in Pakistan, though exceptions do exist. This is perhaps not the fault of PTI or Imran but the cruel requirement of a deeply rooted system of patronage politics. I hope Imran and PTI engage highly skilled professionals, at least at policy levels, because it is still not clear what the rationale was behind the current senate ticket distribution. Regretfully, PTI is still far from becoming an institution with fundamentals of merit, fair evaluation and rewards. Despite massive resentment on social and electronic media, I don’t think that the reason of defeat in NA-154 was dynastic politics or that Ali wasn’t a suitable candidate. Perhaps, any other candidate might not have even secured half of what Ali, being a popular personality, achieved.

Let’s keep NA-154 aside, the challenges for PTI to ensure its victory in the next election are immense, and they might lose this election, if timely decisions are not taken. The biggest challenge is PTI turning from a party of change to one relying on patronage politics which is counterproductive, simply because it’s not the strength of Imran nor is it what an educated middle class voter, who believes in Imran’s ideology, wants. When it comes to patronage politics, the masters are Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, not Imran. Even though PTI may still need more electables for rural areas, Imran should at least avoid hugging and patting every horse entering the race.

Another challenge that needs to be resolved is the internal party rift. With intraparty elections, these rifts escalated and are likely to trigger more divisions once the tickets for the upcoming election are finalised. There may be no easy solution for these issues, but at least the party can minimise the damage by announcing tickets well before the election. Party workers who are old and filled with resentment should be called and their genuine concerns should be addressed. Those who have not joined any other party are clearly ideological souls and should be given utmost respect.

In my constituency, PK-48, three men are running their independent campaigns and are hopeful that they will get a PTI ticket. On the other hand, it is rather deplorable to see many PTI potential ticket holders, especially from Punjab, sitting in Bani Gala, instead of being in their relevant constituencies. These people must be pushed to go back to their areas and campaign on ground, instead of sitting next to Imran in every press conference. A rigorous evaluation is required.

PML-N has smartly managed media and built a narrative against Imran, and PTI apparently has no counter narrative. Politics in Pakistan often stoops too low, with PML-N and Nawaz openly targeting Imran’s personal life, and we all know that in a country like Pakistan, even half a truth is enough to kill someone.

Imran’s battle is not only against the Sharifs and Zardaris but every beneficiary of this corrupt system. These crooks are present everywhere, even in the state instuitions, media, and civil society. There is no doubt that some people from Imran’s close circle are leaking stories about his personal life such as the recent news of him getting married to Bushra Maneka. As election season is about to start, he will likely face more rumours and controversies. He needs to take certain measures to ensure his personal security and privacy. Although Imran is media’s beloved, I often feel that he should avoid too many interviews and media interaction. This is exactly what Donald Trump is doing, tweeting his life away and that is going against him. An excessive media interaction drains one out, diverting their focus from real issues. Media then makes farrago of half-lies and half-truth, negating ones opinion completely.

Nawaz has successfully built the narrative in his favour and smartly converted “mujhay kyun nikala” (why did you disqualify me?) into a sympathy card. This seems to be working perfectly for them, and with on-going trials in the NAB, will further strengthen their victimisation card. PTI apparently has no strategy to dissipate this narrative.

Sharifs know their strength lies in rural areas, where they can fool people better, especially due to limited social media and Twitter access there. These rural areas may respond, only to some extent though, with a major wave in urban constituencies, where most of PTI support resides. Whether PTI and Imran can trigger a wave of change within the urban population is a big challenge, and with their current mode of politics, it seems farfetched.

Shahid Rehan

Shahid Rehan

The author is a social media activist, and keenly raises his voice on issues related to politics, human rights, education and environment. He is currently working as a postdoctoral research scientist, at the Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Finland. He tweets @SShahidrehan (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • zulfiqar

    Such a one sided and biased opinion on NA154, shows that PTI people are not ready to accept the ground realities. I along with my entire family would have voted IK, had he not relied on others for success in the coming elections.Recommend

  • Aaqib Ahmad

    Quite one sided and biased analysis. PTIs (IK) arrogance is one of the biggest reason behind all these set backs. U turns, speaking lies every time, Non acceptance of ground realities, baseless allegation and extra ordinary pro establishment narrative are few other reasons. But PTI’s intellectuals (including yourself) are not ready to understand.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The optics of losing NA154 was disastrous for PTI and more so for Imran Khan as he heads the party and thus takes the blame. PML-N by winning this seat has been handed a life line to further criticize the judiciary and those they claim who are conspiring against them. This narrative, shaky as it is, resounds well with the PML-N rank and file.
    I completely agree with you when you say Imran has a lot of introspection to do. Imran and his PTI have yet to demonstrate that they are capable of leading the country, something that he has not managed to do as yet …… the only thing he has going in his favor is that he has not been tried while both Nawaz and Zardari have …and both have failed miserably.Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    It’s laughable to believe that general public of Pakistan cares about Khandani Siyasat or corruption but it does hate one thing and that is “Hypocrisy”. Imran and Nawaz Sharif are world class hypocrites, both are born dictators, both hate democracy and Parliament but Nawaz Sharif is smart enough to hide it whereas Imran is stupid enough to shine it.Recommend

  • Bashir Ahmad

    “Imran’s battle is not only against the Sharifs and Zardaris but every beneficiary of this corrupt system” And you believe he will win this battle with the support of his so called clean and honest comrades surrounded by him!!?Recommend

  • Sardar Shahid Rehan

    This shows Pakistanis are morally corrupt if they still vote NS knowing he caught red-handedly in Panama. IK isn’t perfect for sure but far better than sharifs, at least has some financial credibility, whereas, sharifs are known certfied thugsRecommend

  • sullu2004

    IK lost creditablty by allegations and lies against his oppnents and use of dirty laguage.Recommend

  • Sardar Shahid Rehan

    allegations? after SC decisions nothing remained allegationRecommend

  • Sardar Shahid Rehan

    Thanks for your naive views, you think corruption is only problem of certain class and not the poor people living in urban areas. Thats enough to reflect your intellect. I am done! Thanks you very much.Recommend

  • Isfandyar

    Obviously you are done! Still can’t believe this pathetic analysis. You actually wrote this nonsense that lack of twitter access makes rural areas more vulnerable. Pus when I said corruption of this sort is an urban middle class issue, it means that only a certain segment is obsessed about it the way you are.
    In fact you yourself wrote in a comment below.
    “This shows Pakistanis are morally corrupt if they still vote NS knowing he caught red-handedly in Panama. IK isn’t perfect for sure but far better than sharifs, at least has some financial credibility, whereas, sharifs are known certfied thugs”
    Basically you think that corruption should be an issue and people would be morally corrupt if they vote for NS. This is so childish.Recommend