PML-N still enjoying solid support

Analysis by Khalid Bhatti editor N&A news,

The victory of PML-N candidate in Chakwal constituency of PP-20, significant in many ways. Before this election, general perception was that PML-N has lost considerable vote bank in Punjab due to the disqualification of former prime minister and its leader Nawaz Sharif and recent campaign of religious groups on the issue of Khatam-e-Nabuwwat . But this election result proved  that this perception was wrong. PML-N not just retained its vote bank but increased it . In the general elections 2013, Ch. Liaqat Ali khan scored more than 62000 votes to win the constituency. This time, his 32 years old son Ch. Haider Sultan got more than 75,000 votes, an increase of 13000 votes.

On the other hand, PTI candidate got around 32,000 votes in 2013, which increased to more than 45,000 votes in this election, an increase of 13,000 votes. Despite the increase of votes for both parties, the margin of victory remained the same. Ch. Liaqat won this constituency with the margin of 27,000 votes and his son even increased it almost 30,000 votes.

As expected, Tehreek Labaik Pakistan (TLYP) emerged as third largest  party securing 16112 votes in this by-election. It has cemented its position as the largest bralevi religious political group in the country. It is a wrong perception that TLYP is just making inroads into PML-N vote banks. It is attracting a more extreme right wing conservative votes. But at the same time, it is also drifting away anti PML-N voters from PTI. More staunch anti PML-N religious voters are not going towards PTI but supporting TLYP. Si in sense, PML-N’s loss is not PTI’s gain.

PPP and PAT did not put its candidates and extend their support to PTI candidate. On the other hand Sardar Ghulam Abbas group which secured the second place ahead of PTI in 2013 supported PML-N candidate as this group joined PML-N.

The 2013 election trends are continuing with little changes. But the general trend remains the same. PTI has increased its support and vote bank but this increase is not big enough to cause big upsets. It seems that PTI is still lagging behind PML-N in central and North Punjab. But the situation is different in South Punjab where triangular fight is expected in next general elections. PTI, PML-N and PPP will engage in a ferocious  battle to win the elections.

 Just couple of days before this by election, Nawaz Sharif addressed a massive public gathering in Kot Momin area of Sargodha district. It was an impressive show of strength to prove his popularity. Kot Momin is not far away from Sial Sharif where custodian of shrine is spearheading a anti government and PML-N campaign. It will be wrong to write Nawaz Sharif off. He is still enjoying good support among the Centre right and modest religious voters. His anti establishment narrative has an echo in his supporters.

So far PML-N is holding on to its support base. I don’t see any big change in the situation without a big split  or major defection in the party. PML-N is still largest electoral party in Punjab. PTI’s support is not big enough to defeat it and to get the majority. The direct intervention of the establishment will be required to weaken it. We are still seven months away from the general elections. Its a long time in our politics. The situation can change rapidly. The recent political developments in Baluchistan proved that. From no where a political crisis emergerd and leadership failed to handle it.

To suffer a defeat in the general election in Punjab, PML-N needs to loose and loose it big. On the other hand, PTI needs to make big gains to cause the upset. PML-N, PML-Q and PML-J ruled Punjab since 1985. PPP failed to form a single government in Punjab since 1977. It remained in the coalition government twice, first in 1993 with PML-J and then in 2008 with PML-N.

If the situation remains the same leading up to the general elections then we will have a close election between PML-N and PTI. PML-N still has an edge over PTI. But PTI is in the position to give tough time. PTI poised to increase its seats in Punjab.

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