Rise of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Naya Pakistan: 2018 Elections and the Challenges ahead

ISSSP Reflections No. 56, August 9, 2018

Author: Riffath Khaji 

Pakistan has elected its new Prime Minister Imran Khan, former cricketer turned politician and chief of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), in the recently concluded general elections. There are four significant trends that have emerged during the 2018 elections. Firstly, the underdog so far in the Pakistan politics, PTI have emerged as a triumphant with its pure election strategy while powerful army allegedly backing them.  Secondly, it gave way to new Islamist parties like the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and the Milli Muslim League (MML) to come to the forefront. Thirdly, there was an increase in the participation of women as candidates and voters. Finally, the word “Naya Pakistan” that was introduced by Imran Khan in the PTI election manifesto 2018 has become notable. As per the PTI’s election manifesto, ‘Naya Pakistan’ consists of three chapters which highlights the new Pakistan propagated by them, on the basis of development factors such as social, economic, political and security.

Rise of PTI: Election Strategy

Imran Khan in his 2011 Ted Talk said “ never give up on your dreams” which has become a reality today. His stated dream was to become the political head of state since the establishment of PTI in 1996. He identifies himself as a liberal democratic leader who wants to establish a “Welfare Islamic State”. In this context, it is important to note that Imran Khan’s campaign targeted and influenced the young population in Pakistan because he stressed upon education and establishing good governance in Pakistan.

For instance, the PTI Manifesto 2018, titled “The Road to Naya Pakistan” (The Road to the New Pakistan), highlights the PTI agenda, ranging from governance to security – Transformation in governance, Revolutionising Social Services and Ensuring National Security of Pakistan. Besides, Phone apponstituency Management System’ (CMS) and a database of more than 50 million voters  was a key political weapon for PTI in the concluded general elections. Notably, it helped PTI to increase its vote share on Election Day, by the constant message of stressing importance of voting and making them to go to the poll booths when the government’s own telephone information service giving out polling place locations suffered major problems on Election Day. Incidentally, this was the most important tactic adopted by PTI compare to other political parties. “It’ had a great impact,” said Amir Mughal, tasked with using the app and database, CMS, to elect Asad Umar, a lawmaker who won his seat in Islamabad.

The election results revealed that there was a significant increase in terms of vote base for PTI from 17% in 2013 to 25 % in the 2018 elections. Equally,, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) vote base had gone up from 33% in 2013 to 38% in the recent elections whereas the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) remained static at around 15%.

In addition, the electoral alliance with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) aided PTI to form the government in Pakistan. Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, the chief of MQM-P, in a press conference stated that “instead of personal interests, MQM-P has prioritized the interest of the country”, adding that the “development of Karachi means the development of Pakistan”.

PTI’s Naya Pakistan: Challenges Ahead

The first major challenge for PTI in achieving ‘Naya Pakistan’ was to overcome the large vote share of PML-N in the Punjab province. However, the corruption charges against Nawaz Shariff prior to the National Assembly Elections put PTI at an advantage in the province. But taking on PML-N who is a strong player in the province and integrating the province with the PTI’s Naya Pakistan agenda seems to be the foremost challenge in near future.

Secondly, having received support from majority of the provinces, it is now important for Imran Khan to reflect on the core issues of developments, not only in Punjab and Sindh but also, in the regional belt of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK). Primarily, PTI should prove that it will function well as a national government in Pakistan.

Third, stabilizing internal security will be a major challenge to PTI’s Naya Pakistan. The suicide bombing in Quetta on the day of the election as well as the deadly attack during a political rally in Mastung district in Balochistan are both reflective of Pakistan’s growing internal turmoil and the case in point. To an extent, the entire Pakistan election campaign was marred with violence. Thus, PTI requires  not only dealing with political and social issues but also with the national security concerns.

Fourth, managing the Pakistan army as well other non-state actors is going to be the another key in realizing Naya Pakistan. Given that the Pakistan army has a long history of influencing the selection of their Prime Ministers. Despite similar accusations of the army rigging the recent elections in favour of Imran Khan, there was major support for him in almost all the provinces of Pakistan. Pakistan army is popular in Punjab province which has heavy influence on national politics. Currently Pakistan army is the deep state which has strong control on both domestic politics and foreign issues.

Fianlly, it will be interesting to see how Imran Khan as the Prime Minister of ‘Naya Pakistan’ going to deal with  the India -Pakistan relations. The events that will enfold during his time in office, particularly concerning Kashmir and India is key to his government’s political stability and for realizing ‘Naya Pakistan’. Incidentally, Imran Khan in his “Victory Speech” stated that Pakistan is willing to build ties with India and resolve all disputes, including the Kashmir issue. He also said that “If they take one step towards us, we will take two, but at least (we) need a start”. India-Pakistan might not witness any bilateral progress soon. It will be interesting to see how both the countries will progress keeping in mind their national interests. Hope to see the India- Pakistan cricket diplomacy soon.

In short, PTI chief Imran Khan who took charge as the new Prime Minister of Pakistan on August 11, 2018 needs to focus on the Pakistan domestic politics, security, economy and its foreign policy, which are key to his success and realizing Naya Pakistan. It would be interesting to see how the new government will deliver on its promises, only time can tell that.

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Riffath Khaji
Senior Research Fellow in the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP) at the National Institute of Advance Studies (NIAS), Bangalore.

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