Winning the 2018 elections with Zardari and PPP, or saving his party’s ideology – what will Imran Khan choose?

Published: March 25, 2018

The only way to prevent the PML-N from making government after the 2018 elections is through an alliance between the PPP and the PTI.

The election, or as some experts satirically call it, the “selection” of the relatively unknown candidate as the Chairman of the Senate, has jolted the political landscape of Pakistan. It is now clear that those who removed Nawaz Sharif – right or wrong is a different matter altogether – are going to use all the tactics at their disposal to prevent his political comeback.

The objective in the Senate election has been achieved brilliantly by both, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). They have been brought together in a surprising alliance, despite Imran Khan’s tall public promises of never shaking hands with “corrupt” politicians like Asif Ali Zardari.

All politics is realpolitik – based on pragmatism – which is why, in principle, one should not be surprised by such developments. The reality is that politics is the art of compromise, and to some extent, political parties all over the world display pragmatism by compromising on ideology. 

Despite this, the alliance is not a small development, as it has “united” two extreme foes, giving us a peek into the political landscape of the future as well.

Frankly, this “alliance” may very well become a permanent template for the future, because the reality is that despite Nawaz’s disqualification, he remains popular in Punjab. I understand this is hard to grasp for the corruption-obsessed, urban, white-collar class, but clearly there is an obvious contradiction between what they think, and what the rest of the country thinks.

Since Nawaz’s disqualification, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) has won all the by-elections, including Lodhran, which was supposedly a safe seat for the PTI. One could argue some of these victories were in rural areas, where politics is extremely local, and therefore, such wins do not reflect the national sentiment. Some assert that these victories do not prove Nawaz’s popularity has increased after the verdict. True, these victories do not show his increased appeal, but at the same time, they do reflect that despite its leader’s disqualification, the PML-N is still strongly entrenched at the local level in rural areas as well.

Moreover, in the urban areas, there are signs that Nawaz’s narrative of “mujhe kyun nikala” (why was I ousted?) is actually gaining traction. His rallies are getting bigger, and the party’s base seems to be more charged than usual.

Given the aforementioned scenario, it will be difficult to completely demolish the PML-N in the upcoming elections, even if Nawaz is put behind bars, and so-called “electable” candidates are persuaded to leave the party. Unless and until massive rigging or engineering (such as breaking up the PML-N into factions) is done, the party is still likely to emerge with the most number of seats, though probably short of simple majority.

If this does happen, the only way to prevent the PML-N from making government is through an alliance between the PPP and the PTI.

Both parties will have to come together once again, and there are two ways of going about this. The first is to announce an outright alliance, and fight elections on the basis of seat adjustment. However, the problem with this method is that it is going to be very difficult for Imran to justify such an alliance. His core support base constitutes of the urban, white collar class who hate the PPP, particularly Zardari. Thus, an open electoral alliance will demotivate his followers.

Moreover, the PPP is no longer an electoral force, the way it once used to be. Outside rural Sindh, the party’s prowess has completely evaporated. In the 2013 elections, out of a total of 297 seats, the PPP could only win six in the Punjab Assembly. In the recent by-elections as well, the PPP fared extremely poorly, and was not even able to cross the threshold of 5,000 votes. Ultimately, there is nothing the PTI is going to achieve out of such an alliance.

The second way is to engineer the kind of alliance witnessed during the Senate elections. Although feasible, the problem is that in the Senate elections, both the PPP and the PTI were in an “indirect” alliance, supporting an independent candidate. The stakes were also not as high, as in the Pakistani context, the Senate is not as important as the National Assembly. However, a post-election alliance will have to be more direct, and both parties may have to divide ministries between them, while also agreeing on a mutually acceptable prime minister.

For the PTI, the only acceptable person for the job will be Imran, and they will also be reluctant to give important ministries to the PPP. In this scenario, the PPP can support the PTI government from the outside, but such a government would be extremely weak, as it would give rise to a lot of political uncertainty and possible instability.

If the parties have to come to an alliance after the elections, then Imran will have to show flexibility and offer the PPP a substantial share in power. After all, given the chaos under this administration, a hung parliament with an unstable government is not something Pakistan can afford.


Raza Habib Raja

The author is a recent Cornell graduate and currently pursuing his PhD in political science at Maxwell School, Syracuse University. He has also worked for a leading development finance institution in Pakistan. He is a freelance journalist whose works have been published at Huffington Post, Dawn (Pakistan), Express Tribune (Pakistan) and Pak Tea House. He tweets @razaraja (

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

  • bilal

    Why in the world will PTI share hands with PPP BEFORE the elections?
    PTI did not have enough votes to get their Senate chairman nor deputy. Voting for independents simply meant . both the above slots will go to PMLN.
    PTI gave a useless cherry to PPP and the Senate Chairman went to Baluchistan independent.
    What did PTI get out of this? A BIG nothing, while still being victorious as none of the 2 status quo parties got the main slot.
    Why is this so hard to understand for these so called geniuses and analysts ?Recommend

  • bilal

    Lastly PMLN won 2013 elections by rigging.
    By-elections though important have never determined what will happen in the main event.
    2018 is an open filed as far as Punjab is concerned. An open field between PTI and PMLN.
    The more the tenure of a genuine strong interim set up, the less the control of PMLN establishment in the elections and vice versaRecommend

  • Ravian

    PTI’s only strength was that it offered an alternate leadership. First by accepting PMLQ and then PPP so called “electables”, it has lost its credibility. If the next elections are fair and free (which seems unlikely) PMLN is destined get landslide victory. The reason would not be PMLN’s performance but bad politics by Imran Khan.Recommend

  • F Khan

    I thought this was settled after the judicial commission that 2013 elections were not rigged. If you are not happy then please try preparing for another dharna as PMLN is coming back in the upcoming elections and for your heartburn may be with more votes then 2013.Recommend

  • Mugen shihai doragon-shin

    2013 elections were proven not rigged.
    By-Elections to present a general trend on what is going to happen in the General Election.
    And in no way is Punjab an open field for Both PTI and PMLN , Only PMLN.

    PTI is only capable of lying , whining nothing less , absolutely more.
    With their “work” in Both the National Level and provincial level , they are set for a defeat in the upcoming elections.Recommend

  • Mugen shihai doragon-shin

    Why would they not. They shamelessly did so in the senate , whats stopping them now ?Definitely not “Ghairat” which neither PTI leadership or supporters appear to have.
    Make excuses all you want , bottomline is that PTI helped PPP to get PPP candidate as Senate Chairman .The “we helped choose an independent Baloch candidate” is nothing but rubbish.
    Instead of blaming analysts and geniuses , look at yourself and your “leaders”. PTI shamelssly favoured PPP in senate and then got the shock of their life when on the selection of the Opposition leader , they werent even considered. Thats the two face hypocritical nature of both PTI and its followers.Recommend

  • M. S. Chaudhry

    2018 is a last opportunity for Imran Khan. It’s now or never for PTI too. Without Imran, PTI is PPP and PML(Q) combined. Therefore Imran must avail every opportunity and bury every word of ideology under the ground. We are all Tamashbeen and want Tamasha. We side with winners and forget within days how the match was won. After taking oath of government, his first speech will make or break him. Sending top 100 corrupt into jails will secure his leadership for another decade.Recommend

  • H Ch

    What rigging ? There was no rigging, nothing was proven and PMLN won every thing heavily. Grow upRecommend

  • F Khan

    I agree with you this is IK last elections. Accusations, more accusations, politics of hate and dharna have a shelf life and its expiry date is 2018 general elections.Recommend

  • ali ahmed

    depends on boy he will follow the instruction from them similar to senate electionRecommend

  • bilal

    Clearly you did not read. Did not expect anything else from ignorant people. Please learn to read first….Recommend

  • bilal

    The 4 seats requested for investigation…. what was the result for that ? 2 had re-election ordered in them that’s 50% of your sample. 1 re-lection was ordered for Sad Rafique as well (now under stay order) and 1 no investigation was allowed. Time to come out of the phase of denialRecommend

  • bilal

    Rigging is in the blood of PMLN. You guys cant help it…Recommend

  • pervaiz nasir

    New dramas from IK by each passing days, I do not see that PTI may get votes even he got in 2013. Now frustration is clearly at each level of PTI.Recommend

  • Ghessan

    no one can trust Zardari, even after elections and making an alliance with PPP, PTI will be all time standing at a pole on a single leg as Zardari can any time quit his support hence resulting in destabilizing the govt. His interests no body know when and how changes to the best of his own.Recommend

  • pervaiz nasir

    what is result of 4 seats even after re election. Thats mean all was drama just on signal from umpire.Recommend

  • F Khan

    I never voted PMLN but looks like you PTI guys will force me to do that.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Very balanced view of the situation as it stands. Your third paragraph is especially important.
    One first has to see what happens to the PML-N after the NAB court ruling …….. my guess is Imran will wait until after the election which most probably will result in a hung parliament forcing a good old fashioned fish market style trade off between the PTI and PPP …… deja vu.Recommend

  • Manzoor Ahmed

    If the ECP did their jobs then pml n or ppp should not have been allowed to contest for elections in the first place. Getting Nawaz sharif disqualified is a great gift to the people of Pakistan by Imran Khan and PTI and you are throwing stones in his path because of your own incompetence.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    Notwithstanding the popularity of the party leadership or their election manifesto, it is usualy not diffcult to predict more or less the results of an election if one examines the pre-election trend in the country. However, where elecions are rigged and the urban population is in majority with a very high content of illetratracy among the eligible voters it is futile to forecast. Pakistan falls squarely into this category which has further been complicated by sharif factor who has not only been disqualified by the highest court in the country but declared ” Mr Nobody” on account of his rallying campaign in Punjab against the judiciary. Indications are that the Establishment will never allow the re-emergence of N league in the coming elections. Every step will be taken to avoid vote rigging or foul plays allowing the elctorates to vote for their choice of candidates. Imran Khan has personal probems with his complex especially with women while ppp party has a sound structure and experienced guardian. Barring a straight military rule, the chance for the PPP led Government with or without IK participation.though not ideal.look very real by the passing of every day with Sharif proxy occupying the chair of the Prime Minister..

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • bilal

    Go ahead…. with FX debt going from 60 billion to 100 billion in 5 years of PMLN, just finish what ever remains of Pakistan and satisfy your ignorant ego.Recommend

  • Mugen shihai doragon-shin

    I can read well and good Alhumdulilah. Additionally i can view things unbiased without any sort of “ghulam like filter” which PTI supporters appear to wear , because i see no other reason why supporters like you fail to see the clear hypocrisy and change of narrative exhibited by the PTI leadership.
    Perhaps you should stop being so ignorant and brace yourself to the facts. You may get hurt since your pride will be shattered on embracing it but trust me , The uncomfortable truth is much better than a comfortable lie.Recommend

  • bilal

    This shows how much you really know.
    In By-election why would people generally vote for the opposition ? He has nothing to offer. All electable join in with the sitting Gov’t as they have all the cards. I could go on and explain why by-elections are mostly won by sitting Gov’t.Recommend

  • sterry

    Learn some basic economics – the debt incurred to build infrastructure and the economy is well worth it since now the foundation is there for a prosperous country that can provide jobs and pay off debt. You wonder why so many people are turned off by Imran Khan and the negativity thinking of PTI. You never have anything good to say and no plans but just complain about others – by the way why is jangla bus bad in Lahore and Multan but a more expensive janglabus good for Peshawar?Recommend

  • sterry

    The real gift to Pakistan would be to get Imran Khan disqualified since he would destroy Pakistan. At least Nawaz Sharif has improved the economy and given the nation energy.Recommend

  • bilal

    Country is on the verge of bankruptcy and we are claiming building infrastructure !
    What infrastructure have we built? The one that causes the largest trade deficit in Pakistan history ? Brilliant… just go and enjoy your metro ride.
    It is not just about being positive or negative. It is also about reality. Stop being in a phase of denial. The reality is PMLN (and PPP) have completely screwed Pakistan economy. A country needs no enemy when it has leaders like Nawaz and Zardari.Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    There are very few democracies in the world where elections are not rigged though in many rigging is challenged afterwrds but of no avail. Even the military rule in Egypt claims not to rig the election of al sissi, th man who with the help of saud money made the popular muslim brotherhood disappear. Sharifs are known to have a regular paid professional structure which includes civil servants and well organised street gangsters to ensure that their nominees get elected in cities and urban areas. Rigging can be prevented but very difficult to be proven after the event.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Hameed Ajmal Sheikh

    I think Joining Biggest Corrupt Zardari like in the Senate Election will make Imran in the same Boat as all other corrupt politicians in Pakistan.He has already enrolled in PTi some of Corrupt Politicians like Aleem Khan,Khattak and J.Tareen etc.He is loosing attraction of youth in becoming only Politicians without any Corruption Labels.People will leave him soon as the election approaches near.He will not fare better than Nawaz League.Recommend

  • Bilal

    Hiding behind CPEC…. ! Our massive dent has nothing to do with CPEC…. but all to do with corruption and crippling economy.Recommend

  • Andrew Davis

    If IK has any designs or aspirations regarding the future, in power as a political force worthy of reckoning with, he should, for the time being at least, put these designs and aspirations on hold. The general populace is made up of individuals (including myself) who are very vocal on all points and topics of interest going on in the country, however, lack the guts and gumption to actually go out and make a stand for themselves (or at least their future generations). However, it cannot be denied that sadly (even though a few recent news items have shown that power is not everything), there is little hope of our generation seeing fair and free elections, without the restraints, not to mentioning the votes of rural areas (making a huge difference in election results). This change can come about when we as individuals are willing to stand up for rights, instead of just commenting or sharing matters on social media.

    IK is surrounded by corruption and the corrupt. It would be better to remain in the opposition at the moment rather that aspire to become the next PM of the country as he isn’t about to get a landslide victory and any victory or government position will have be achieved through a coalition of political parties.Recommend

  • Mohamed H Zakaria

    I am afraid, it is too late, they have gone too far, if they don’t join hands, Shariffs will definitely take lead.Recommend