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The rise of Imran Khan – Journal

The rise of Imran Khan – Journal


IT is undeniable that a powerful wave of popular support is surging behind Imran Khan today. There is no sense, nor any reason, to deny this.

All predictions that the sun would soon set on Khan once he was removed from power turned out to be false. As things begin to deteriorate for him, something happens to give him strength.

This something is always the same: an appeal to the people. Following the April 2022 no-confidence vote, for example, Khan announced a long march to Islamabad in May. This long march failed to bring together enough people to accomplish anything special. Khan canceled abruptly after reaching Islamabad and left for Banigala instead.

There was a feeling that the politics of agitation which had served him so well during the period of his rise after the so-called tsunami march in August 2014 was no longer going to work, because he no longer had the support of the establishment that was in place. a crucial ingredient in the success of the previous wave of agitational politics. Instead, Khan retreated to rallies, in large numbers, and drew large crowds that he flooded with fiery rhetoric of betrayal and pride.

But then came the by-elections on 20 seats from which the PTI itself had resigned, and Khan won 15. This jolt was the first sign that something important was stirring beneath the surface. Some have tried to downplay this. The victory was due to a twist, they said, when Khan stood as a candidate for all the seats.

Others said he only gained back seats that were his to begin with. Still others said anti-current sentiment played a role, because Shehbaz Sharif's PDM government had just completed a series of painful adjustments in fuel and electricity prices that had spurred inflation and eroded people’s purchasing power.

There is no point in downplaying the fact that Imran Khan has established a powerful connection with the electorate.

But then eleven more by-elections were held in October, in which Khan again stood as a candidate with seven seats and won six of them. Privately, the PPP made a big deal about the seat Khan lost to his candidate Malir in Karachi. But the bigger picture was becoming clearer: every time Khan went to the people, he returned with his powers recharged.

Realizing this, Khan played a bigger move: he dissolved the Punjab and KP assemblies in January 2023, hoping to cause a large number of by-elections in the two provinces, as required by the Constitution . But sensing that holding these elections would only further strengthen its strength, the PDM government procrastinated and eventually succeeded in blocking these elections for over a year.

The February 8, 2024 elections were the next moment offered to Khan to get closer to the people, and this time all efforts were made to suppress his call. He was in prison, his party had no symbols, its activists were arrested, a large number of party leaders were forced to leave politics or join another party and its candidates could not organize meetings corner, even less large gatherings.

The final result was marred by widespread and credible allegations of manipulation, sometimes in numbers so large that it turned an entire constituency away from Khan's candidate and toward the opponent.

And yet its candidates obtained just under a third of the total votes cast, the largest bloc of votes of all. In terms of seat share, their score was even greater, as their voter mobilization strategy was superior to that of other parties.

There is no point now in denying or trying to downplay the fact that Imran Khan has established a powerful connection with the electorate. The more they try to retain it, the more this bond strengthens and causes it to gain more and more adherents.

All sorts of theories are now floating around about what the main driver of this connection actually is. Some say this is an anti-establishment vote. Others say it's a prolonged period, more than 20 months, of record inflation that has people flocking to his appeal. Another theory is that it is not love for Khan, but dislike (or even hatred) for Nawaz Sharif that lies behind this growing attraction.

We can read all kinds of messages in this powerful call, but we cannot wish it away. Khan succeeded beyond even his wildest imagination. It is essential now to examine the deep, underlying causes of this formidable political history. A failing economy and changing demographics are two things to watch out for.

Pakistan's economy faces critical choices that require decisive leadership. On the one hand, an environment of high energy costs is now permanent, as imported LNG increasingly replaces dwindling domestic gas stocks. Second, a dangerously high debt burden means that the status quo cannot continue. Pakistan must adapt to both realities simultaneously: moving away from energy-intensive manufacturing and learning to rely on domestic resources to fuel growth rather than foreign borrowing.

Failing to make these transitions will lead to high inflation and unemployment, precisely when the country is absorbing a youth bulge, with more than two million new entrants joining the job market each year.

They are all young people. For them, 9/11 happened before they were born. And more and more, these young people are filling our electoral lists. More than 22 million new voters were added to the electorate in 2024 compared to 2018, a record increase, although it is unclear how many of them were young people.

Pakistan is changing. In the economic realm, old manufacturing bases are becoming obsolete as energy costs rise sharply from year to year.

And in politics, the patronage machines that supported old political parties are seeing the ground shift beneath their feet as more and more new voters register. Those who adapt to changes will survive. Those who don't will fall kicking and screaming.

The writer is a business and economic journalist.

[email protected]

X: @khurramhusain

Published in Dawn, February 22, 2024




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