With PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) chief and former Prime Minister Imran Khan in jail and disqualified from the next elections, coupled with a targeted undoing of political leaders of the party; the big question now is whether PTI can make a comeback in the upcoming general elections without Imran Khan.
While the arrest of Imran Khan in the Toshakhana case and his subsequent 5-year disqualification from politics stands on a very thin rope of a hasty trial court judgment, widely criticised for being flawed by ill-intended motives of the sitting judge who refused to allow Imran Khan’s lawyers to present evidences in the case, and gave the judgment against Khan; it is highly likely that Khan will get a relief from Islamabad High Court (IHC) where the trial court’s verdict has been challenged. It is also likely that IHC may overturn the decision of the trial court, revoking Imran Khan’s disqualification in the coming days.
However, keeping the current situation in view, with Imran Khan out of the next general election race, coupled with the defection of major party leadership after the May 9 riots, PTI may find itself in a difficult position to make an impactful comeback in the next elections.
“Imran Khan is PTI and PTI is Imran Khan only. The rest of the around Khan has been able to win in the past only because they have also campaigned for Imran Khan more than themselves in their constituencies,” said Adnan Shauqat, a senior political analyst.
“We should also remember how PTI leadership was dealt with after 9th May riots. How a political party was equated with anti-state elements. How an all-out cleanup operation was done with top leadership arrested through raids and put behind bars for weeks, only to pressure them to announce their condemnation on May 9 riots and disassociate themselves from Imran Khan and PTI. All this was done in a way that showed the anger of the state, which spread fear among PTI supporters and leaders and forced them to part ways,” he added.
While PTI leadership still believes that they have a good enough team to go into the next elections; an anti-establishment narrative building through election campaign without Imran Khan’s strong public support and aura, would be a difficult and challenging task.
“Since the May 9 incident, thousands of PTI supporters are still in jail. Some fear military trials, leaders are under arrest; Imran Khan himself – the only face of PTI is in jail. I think PTI would only have an impact if Imran Khan makes a comeback as a contender in the election race. However, it seems unlikely for him at the moment,” said senior analyst Shahzad Chaudhry.
“And without Imran Khan, PTI may fall short of creating another political storm,” he added.