The by-election to the seat of former Prime Minister Gilani may have ended in the victory on Thursday of his son Abdul Qadir (PPP) as expected, but the narrowness of his victory has given pause to the PPP. At the same time, the PML-N, the PTI and the JI, as well as other opposition parties, should have taken away important lessons from the by-election, which they did not win, though their joint candidate did put up a much improved performance than in the general election, severely reducing the majority to a mere 4100 votes. The PPP should note carefully the thinness of the margin, on a seat which the former PM had held for it since 1988, having first won it in 1985. However, as Prime Minister, he poured a great amount of development funds into the constituency. Then, there was the raising of the South Punjab issue. The PPP needs to take a long hard look at whether it should continue to expend political capital on this issue, because it does not seem to have contributed much to its vote total. Though there was a concerted effort to portray Mr Gilani as a martyr for being disqualified for protecting the PPP chief from the corruption cases against him, it does not seem to have paid off. Mr Abdul Qadir Gilani’s win has set up another test, in the by-election that must be held on the provincial seat he must vacate.
The PPP should realise that the energy crisis has cost it dearly, coming as it does on the heels of an extended bout of inflation which has not yet ended. Empty slogans such as a South Punjab province will be of no avail. However, the faith it is keeping with its allies is perhaps the main asset it will take into the election. Though neither the MQM nor the ANP have ever won seats from South Punjab, they do have their pockets, with those votes being important in what seems to be the close-run election looming ahead.
This is a lesson for PML-N should they care to take instruction from it. The narrow margin in the by-election was despite the entire opposition backing one candidate, though he contested as an independent. As the leading opposition force, the PML-N must display a capacity to generate and maintain opposition unity. It should start by uniting the factions of the party which are standing apart, and form alliances with those likeminded forces which want to see the present government ousted. The general election at which they will attempt to do this is only months away.