The recent cantonment board elections held across the country has once again vindicated the predomination of certain political parties to their ‘pockets’: Sind and Sindhi speaking go with the PPP; PTI’s citadel in Pakhtun-dominant Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with the Pashtun belt of Baluchistan; and exclusively, besides all the bantering and cornering, the PML-N still has the roots firmed where the Punjabi speaking and their extensions are residing.
Besides forming the government in the province and in the center, the PTI was unable to penetrate the core of the Punjab in the last general elections and many by-elections held after that. But the ruling party has been perceived to have its footing in central Punjab with the so-called breakthrough victory in Sialkot provincial by-elections seat held last month.
Being the ‘center’, vocal, and most importantly having the largest and decisive chunk of the constituencies after the separation of the eastern wing in 1971, the clichés “All eyes on Punjab”, “Real battle in Punjab” have captured Pakistan’s electioneering since then.
Rule in the Punjab is synonymous, or may have become even more significant, than the country being led.
Amid the ongoing tussle between the ECP and the government over EVM machines and the election amendments, even the cantonment board elections were keenly observed.
Suffice to say the cantonment elections’ results are a setback for the ruling party, as the results turned out to be the apparent recovery of PML-N in Sialkot after the by-election defeat, with the clear dominance in Lahore. The ruling party was in trouble even in the ‘bastion’ city of Rawalpindi. Moreover, owing to the proximity of the ‘same-page’, the ruling party would consider itself far more ‘secure’ as far as the cantonment areas are concerned. Though the voters are under no clout of the establishment, it would not by any means be the safest field for the PML-N. By winning the cantonment boards there, however, the PML-N has consolidated its real base in the Punjab.
It is an unfortunate aspect of Pakistan’s mainstream political parties that besides having successive governments, especially after the Musharraf era and signing of the Charter of Democracy, the PPP and PMLN could not stretch their footholds from interior Sindh and the GT road respectively. In fact, their policies, measures, and their partisan selections to key posts have further depleted their tenacity outside their forts.
Sadly with this state of affairs, the mainstream parties may well be correlated with the regional and nationalist parties like ANP, BNP, PTM, MQM, and others. Even religious parties like JUI and now JI also have the dominant ethnic predilection.
Though PTI is credited with being more ‘inclusive’ and its acclamation of representing all regions and people from different ethnicities, it has appeared only as second fiddle due to the lackluster performance by its provincial government.
Besides this, its preeminence in Karachi and South Punjab in the 2018 elections are also eroding.
Karachi hosts the largest Pashtun settlements, who arguably are the most ardent supporters of Khan but the PTI seems to be losing the majority Urdu speaking voters as evident in capturing far fewer cantonment seats in the largest city of Pakistan, which is still very much ‘open’ after the downfall of Altaf led MQM.
In the grassroot cantonment elections, the new MQM routed the opponents in Hyderabad which is less multiethnic.
As has been the tradition, Baluchistan is left hanging, this time with BAP. In the grassroot level elections, independents are always expected to take more seats but winning 9 out of 10 from the main city Multan, where besides the clear-cut winner PTI in the general elections, the PPP and PMLN claimed strong positions, which is a major surprise. It further depicts that if the South were to be untangled from Lahore, it could become as alienated like Baluchistan.
Besides the ethnic and linguistic polarization, there are deep-rooted and multifarious divisions from including religion and visions, but being the most ostensible and perilous for the integration of state, the ethnic divide is mentioned here in the context of the recent cantonment board elections.
Furthermore, the alienation rhetoric prevailed over by the firebrand cabinet members with the chief backing further disheveled the murky and partisan politics. The government is implicitly following the line of General Musharraf who in his reign had warned the ‘disobedient’ to better go to the “other side of the fence.” The first episode of the grass-root level elections serves the microcosm of the current partisan landscape of the politics which is being unfortunately developing than being curtailed, besides the third straight constituent assembly. The onus is surely on to the political parties to eradicate the partisanship and polarization as this could be done within their respective parties.