When PTI workers and supporters come out to protest in the streets tomorrow, they will not be shouting slogans against the “stolen elections” of 2013. Though the target of their ire would still be the PML-N leadership, this time the PTI chief Imran Khan has called for street protests against their policies of “excessive taxation and privatisation of public sector enterprises.”
It is a change of tack on the part of PTI leadership which had so far focused all its energies on proving that the last elections were rigged by the PML-N, in connivance with the members of the Election Commission of Pakistan.
But with the next elections just two years away, and the PML-N gathering respect internationally, PTI leaders would have thought to shed the obsession and pick up popular issues that count more to voters.
Senior party officials agreed in background discussions that though the obsession succeeded in highlighting the need for electoral reforms, PTI spent too much time and energy in the effort. It would have been better spent on issues closer to the heart of hard-pressed people, they said.
A senior party leader and member of the National Assembly confided that voices had been rising in the party questioning the leadership’s fixation on the rigging issue to the negligence of a broader agenda. It was argued in recent party meetings that the party should start taking the government head-on on the burning issues.
“Party workers said they had beaten the cheating charge enough and wanted something new to protest,” the PTI MNA said. That led to a consensus at the latest meeting held on Monday to diversify the party’s politics. And a call went out for countrywide street demonstrations against “the economic oppression unleashed by the ruling PML-N” on Saturday.
“We will keep on pushing the government and other political parties for electoral reforms and to make the Election Commission a truly independent institution. That’s the only path to hold free and fair elections acceptable to everybody in politics and the party would continue to expose the ruling PML-N’s failings and machinations,” added another well-connected PTI leader.
But does the PTI intend to achieve this all alone?
“Yes, we had been on a solo flight but know it didn’t bring the results we wanted,” he said, pointing out that the PTI joined hands with the PPP in requisitioning the National Assembly session to discuss the hot issue of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
A third PTI leader explained that it took time to shift the party’s gear because low-rank PTI leaders “could not press for the change while their chairman was all gung-ho against the PML-N and its backers.”
That shift to “routine politics” would indicate to others that, for all practical purposes, the PTI has accepted that there will be no mid-term elections. “True, in the coming weeks and months, the party will be guided by issues and will welcome likeminded political parties in a joint struggle, as it’s doing with the PPP,” he said.
Chairman Imran Khan, however, continues to miss the National Assembly. His party lawmakers, though, are quite regular in their attendance. With the return of Jahangir Tareen to the assembly, PTI is expected to play more active role in the house.