Uphill Battle

An analysis of the outcomes of KP’s local body elections for PTI

With local bodies (LB) elections in the country’s biggest province, Punjab, just a couple of months away and general elections little over a year away, what does the result of the first phase of LB polls in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) tell us about Prime Minister Imran Khan? In simple words; overconfidence leads to a drastic result.

However, he apparently has reasons for being overconfident because KP is the province from where Imran Khan started his journey of change towards ‘Naya Pakistan’. According to Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) billions of trees were planted in KP, residents of this province were the first to be enrolled in the ‘Sehat Card Plus’ Programme, a cheap Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system was launched for everyone and above all the much talked about Police Reforms were introduced there. In short Imran Khan started his much talked about slogan of ‘Tabdeeli’ from KP.

Therefore, his defeat, that too at the hands of Maulana Fazlur Rahman, his arch rival, is a bit too disturbing. More so because the elections were held in most of the districts of Peshawar Valley, which includes Peshawar city as well as Mardan, Nowshera, Charsadda and Swabi – the main stronghold of the PTI. With this result it is not difficult to predict that the second phase, expected to be held in March or April next year, will be even worse because that will include Mansehra. Abbottabad, and more cities from the Hazara division, which are considered the stronghold of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). Similarly, there will be the Dir and Swat districts of the Malakand division where Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and PML-N are in a very strong position. Then there will be North and South Waziristan which are historically strongholds of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam Fazl (JUI-F). Thus, one can safely predict that the second phase will be simply be disastrous for PTI.

Russian-American journalist, author and activist Masha Gessen, once said, “dictators fall when they’re overconfident; they stay in power when they’re realistic.” The reality is that the general public is turning against the incumbent party despite all the PTI has done for the province, as they blame the federal government for the massive rise in prices of kitchen items which has made it difficult for a common man to make ends meet. PTI voters, burdened with inflation, in a way, have indicated a tough time for Imran Khan in the days to come. The results of this election can be termed as a first warning for the PTI.


Looking at the results, it seems that eight years later, the people of KP have discovered that change, in fact, has adversely affected their life. In the name of change, what they got is rising inflation, expensive petrol, ever-increasing dollar rates, costly food, and above all increasing unemployment and poverty. The people of KP are very conscious. They now know that they have been deceived and as such have decided to get rid of this change. Indeed it’s humiliating for Imran Khan to face defeat in a province he has ruled for eight years – a sign of his dwindling popularity as voters struggle with price hike and job losses.

This can safely be said without any fear of contradiction that the first phase of LB polls was a fatal blow to Imran Khan. To political observers it is very surprising that in all 17 provincial districts PTI could only score a distant third position on more than half the seats and was far behind JUI-F in many constituencies. Not only did the PTI lose the mayoral elections and many tehsil chairmen’s seats throughout the province, but it even failed to capture the mayor’s post in the capital city, Peshawar, which can safely termed as just a little short of a debacle. Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s grand electoral success is one of the surprising comebacks in recent Pakistani politics, giving a much needed boost to Pakistan Democratic Movement as a whole.

According to reports those responsible for issuing tickets to PTI candidates flouted rules and regulations with no regard for merit – needless to add that Imran Khan promised merit based system in Pakistan. Confirming the report Fawad Chaudhry had said, “we are receiving complaints that in different areas, party tickets were distributed among family members disregarding merit. Chief organisers and all office bearers have been removed from their positions. It has also been decided that the local leadership will not award party tickets when it comes to their relatives. A special committee will be formed where the case will be forwarded and it will decide whether or not to award the ticket.” Political analysts however, believe that this was not the main reason. Even if the tickets were given to the deserving candidates, the results would not have been any different. They argue that the voters have not rejected the candidates but the PTI as a political party.

There are a number of other factors too which led to the dismal performance, chief among which is the weak provincial leadership. The current KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan is no match to his predecessor Parvez Khatak who is a dynamic leader and understands the psyche of the people of KP. Replacing him with Mahmood Khan was a big mistake. Unfortunately the PM made the same mistake in Punjab by appointing Usman Buzdar as the Chief Minister of Punjab.

However, the one good thing the PTI did was that Imran Khan quickly acknowledged the setback accepting the mistakes committed by his party. In a tweet he maintained that, “the wrong selection of candidates was the major cause [for PTI’s losses]” and added that for the second phase of LB polls, he would personally supervise PTI’s election strategy. He immediately dissolved all PTI organisations across the country and formed a new organisational structure with Federal Minister for Planning Asad Umar as the new Secretary General, Federal Minister for Defense Pervez Khattak as President of KP, Federal Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi as President of Sindh, Deputy Speaker National Assembly Qasim Soori as President of Balochistan, Federal Minister for Education Shafqat Mehmood as President of Punjab, Khusro Bakhtiar as President of South Punjab and Amir Mehmood Kayani as the Additional Secretary General of the party.

Conversely, political observers believe that mere change of organisational structure will not help the PTI in winning the upcoming LB polls and general elections. There’s a dire need to change the weak, uninspiring and incompetent provincial chiefs in Punjab and KP. It has been proven beyond any doubt that both of them lack skills of political maneuvering and the stature and acumen required to rally, unify and strengthen the party in their provinces. Their ineffective management or mismanagement has adequately contributed to significant loses to the party in the two provinces. Even PTI’s own provincial assembly members have acknowledged that both men are holding office neither on merit nor competence, but only because the PM prefers submissive candidates who can be controlled from Islamabad. It goes without saying that such figures at the helm put the party at a political disadvantage, which has been proven by electoral setbacks faced by the PTI in both provinces and in Punjab’s cantonment board elections.


There cannot be two opinions that economic crisis has emerged as the single most important reason for the growing public disaffection with the PTI government. It seems almost impossible that Imran Khan will be able to improve the economic situation within a year. Therefore, in such a challenging environment and specially in the wake of the KP debacle he will have to do more than reorganising the party and personally supervising the campaign for crucial LB polls in Punjab, the second phase of local polls in KP and above all the general elections. Unless he goes for a complete organisational overhaul, immediate change in provincial leaderships and a crash programme to control price hikes, there is unlikely to be a win in the PTI’s future. Moreover, there’s also a need to find a person like Jahangir Tareen who could reunite the party and of course, above all, a credible message about his future purpose in governance. Without that the party may be over before the second phase of local bodies elections in KP, the province from where the PM started his triumphant journey.

All said and done; to a great extent Imran Khan met his Waterloo in the last election at KP.

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