Cricket legend Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has emerged as the single largest party in the Pakistan National Assembly polls.
Although it could not achieve an absolute majority, the election results are such that a coalition of smaller parties can be formed sans Bilawal Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) led by jailed ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Imran Khan took on the elections with a slogan of Islamic welfare state against corruption and poverty, with a determination to change the norm in Pakistan where the Muslim League and PPP alternate in power, absent the army from power. Imran is under compulsion to make a move of keeping away these two parties on the grounds of political morality. On the other hand, the rival political parties have refused to accept the poll results claiming 'blatant' rigging. Eight contending parties have raised allegations that the army has colluded with Imran since the election campaigns to make his way to power by disarming the PML and PPP. They claim that attempts have been made to jump to the opposite fold by luring even those in senior positions and raising threats such as financial auditing and corruption case. Many of them who came in as dissenters had won on the PTI ticket. Since the enmity between PPP and League grew after the poll results, it will be the coalition including the small parties and independents that would pave way for Imran's Prime Minister post.
Imran's party that was dominant only in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and a few remote hinterland areas, has been praised as well as censured as the party of north western province. Half of the seats to the Pakistan National Assembly comes from the Punjab province which is a crucial factor like Uttar Pradesh in Indian politics. As the saying goes, once you capture Punjab , you capture Pakistan. What made Imran's march easier was his success in making an inroad into Punjab which was the monopoly of Sharif brothers for a long time. Alongside, coming out of the image of a party of villagers, ascribed to it by opponents, helped it gain in urban areas. PTI also could win influence among middle class following the exposures in panama papers and its subsequent protest demanding the disgraced prime minister’s resignation that suspended the capital city. When the crusade against corruption caused Nazaz's resignation, exile, and then his unavoidable return and finally culminated in his imprisonment, the victor was the strategy of Imran.
The election result proves that not only did Nawaz's move to float a woeful tale of his prison life after his ten-year sentence for corruption fail to create a sympathy wave, but on the contrary it even helped raise the popularity of Imran who took an uncompromising stance towards corruption. In a way, PTI was entering the scene as a third front before the electorate who were longing for a relief from the misfortune of governments alternating between the Bhutto-Sharif clans. As one not saddled with a history of power, Imran's political record, with hands unstained by corruption turned out to be his advantage. Add to it the declarations of nationalist feeling - in Pakistan nurtured by anti-India sentiments - and the interests of religious followers of the country, Imran was becoming a force that could not be ignored. His promise was a transition from corrupt hands to prosperity. He also drew a map of eradicating poverty with the help of China, which spends billions on infra-structure development. Once he shed the playboy image of cricket hero and amorous youth, and took on the air of a principled religious follower and anti-corruption reformer, Pakistan started seeing in him an alternative with the stamina to take on Nawaz Sharif and PPP. Once mounted on that chariot of hope, Imran who once led his country in cricket and then his party for two decades, now reaches the prime ministerial post.
What is needed now is not the tactics of an opposition campaign war, but the statesmanship to rebuild a nation, economically shattered and for long bedeviled by political turmoil and bloodletting. For, once in power, every effort he had made for winning popular support, will start hitting back at him. One of the trump cards he raised against Nawaz Sharif was the dinner diplomacy he played with India. What kind of relations he will adopt for the extreme right of the neighbourhood, how will neighbouring India, and beyond that the US , will view the open declaration about widening relations with China, how he will move forward taking everybody into confidence – given that Harkatul Mujahieen, Pak Taliban and other outfits figuring in America's terrorist list - how the secularists of the country will treat the new leader who has married a spiritual guru arguing against feminism and for Islamic welfare state - are all questions begging answers. Pakistan and the world are keenly watching whether the new winner in political arena and at the hustling can cap them with a victory in governance to clinch the series.