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PTI’s Electoral Gamble

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As the nomination papers were submitted on Sunday evening for the February 8, 2024 elections, a sense of apprehension gripped my heart. It seems Tehreek-e-Insaf is transforming the electoral process into a protest movement. The powerful forces at play do not want to witness Imran Khan reclaiming power, prompting whispers of a subtle alliance with Nawaz Sharif to counter this potential threat.

The recent alliance, seemingly termed arrangement,’ has caught the attention of long-time supporters of Tehreek-e-Insaf. This ‘arrangement’ is now being perceived as a strategic move to undermine the credibility of the party’s loyalists. The use of the Punjabi phrase “Khedan ge na khedan dayan ge” suggests a brewing conflict, possibly to sabotage the nomination process.

Analyzing the list of successful candidates in gathering nomination papers reveals a noticeable shift. Despite Tehreek-e-Insaf being at the forefront of national and provincial assemblies since 2013, its prominent figures seem reluctant to publicly express allegiance. Figures like Murad Saeed, Omar Ayub Khan, and Hamad Azhar come to mind immediately.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi, despite obtaining bail in the Cipher case, remained in jail until the day of filing his nomination papers. Imran Khan’s release is currently not possible due to other pending cases. This situation echoes Pervez Elahi’s past predicament.

Chaudhry Pervez Elahi could play a crucial role in shaping Tehreek-e-Insaf’s electoral strategy. Since 1985, Nawaz Sharif had strategically used him in Punjab’s municipal politics. Elahi’s influence might surpass Shah Mahmood Qureshi in crafting practical electoral wisdom.

Looking back at the 1990s, whenever secondary elections took place in Punjab against the People’s Party, Pervez Elahi was not just a preferred candidate but also the leader of the election campaign. Now, Tehreek-e-Insaf is relying on him for his electoral acumen.

If we assume that ten individuals associated with Tehreek-e-Insaf have successfully gathered nomination papers for a single constituency in the National Assembly, after the scrutiny of three to four, they could legitimately participate in the elections. Tehreek-e-Insaf’s leadership will decide who gets the election symbol, setting the stage for a one-on-one battle against the Muslim League (N) in various constituencies of central Punjab.

Apart from these battlegrounds, Tehreek-e-Insaf’s candidates will stand alone in numerous constituencies against not only Muslim League (N) and Pakistan People’s Party but also Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and ANP in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

The unity of Tehreek-e-Insaf’s vote while its opposition votes are divided could be an advantageous scenario, boosting its chances of success. Tehreek-e-Insaf has also devised a plan to keep its youth engaged, utilizing WhatsApp messages to keep them informed and orchestrating motorcycle rallies in major cities.

The tangible impact of these efforts will be revealed after the announcement of election results. If the expected outcomes align with this strategy, it will provide Tehreek-e-Insaf with a solid justification for its protest movement. The events leading up to February 8 seem reminiscent of the prelude to the 1977 elections, where a similar atmosphere was created by a coalition against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

However, the real challenge for Tehreek-e-Insaf lies in maintaining this ‘protest mood’ after the election results are out. The recent favorable judgments, including Imran Khan’s Saafir case and the directive to the Election Commission, have rejuvenated Tehreek-e-Insaf supporters. Whether they can sustain this ‘protest mood’ in the days to come remains to be seen.

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