The country and its media were riveted Monday evening by the rather dramatic saga of PTI Chairman Imran Khan appearing in court for an appearance in a protective bail hearing that the PTI leader had himself requested.
The PTI and its leader turned the entire process of going to court into a full-fledged high-stakes drama, which the party and its leader correctly saw as a factor in their success. Imran had been summoned to court several times but had delayed his appearance for days and then hours on Monday before realising he had no choice but to walk to the court. There has been much discussion about the PTI’s privileges in the media and the justice system. Few political leaders have gotten away with the kind of rhetoric Imran has used.
Imran’s appearance in court has been interpreted as a victory for the PTI. Who could possibly disagree with that? The optics couldn’t have been better for the PTI, with cameras trained on the PTI leader, the courts waiting, and the leader in a car making them wait, all while a crowd gathered around chanting slogans.
On the other hand, we have a government without a compass: no narrative, no sellable optics, plans that won’t make sense to an impatient audience, and challenges that keep piling up, sometimes due to the government itself.
The PDM government has made it clear that it does not intend to hold elections anytime soon. The “difference” in opinion between the PPP and the PML-N is also clearly evident. Any other government would have forgiven some of the bad karma that is currently visiting the current one. When confronted with a force like the PTI, which will stop at nothing, the PDM government comes across as shifty and clueless, which are not the qualities voters seek.
Imran Khan is a master of narrative construction, optics, and trump cards. What are the chances of the PDM fighting back against the PTI now that it appears it may not have much time to flee elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa?
If elections in Punjab and KP are held on April 9 or after Ramadan, the PTI appears to be in control. Even with Maryam Nawaz at the helm of the party, there may not be many takers of the party’s tickets due to rising inflation and the PTI’s ability to spin the narrative in its favour despite failing to deliver while in government. In KP, observers believe the PTI will be able to form a government once more.
The PTI is expected to form government in both provinces if these two assembly elections are held within the constitutionally mandated 90 days, though astute observers note that it is far too early to call an election, let alone a general election. If KP and Punjab go to the polls soon, general elections for seats in the National Assembly, Sindh, and Balochistan will be held in October.
Experts predict that Sindh will return to the PPP, while the PPP will also make inroads into Balochistan through the BAP. However, with Punjab and KP joining the PTI, political parties will find it difficult to gather enough seats in the centre for the PDM to form another coalition government.
Perhaps the PDM is considering this scenario when it calls for general elections to be held concurrently rather than separately. However, the constitution does not prohibit separate elections and is quite clear on the timeframe. In such a case, it is unclear how an election can be postponed.