The Cantonment Board results—unofficial and official—have vindicated both the government and opposition, depending on who is asked. On one level, PTI managed to clinch the pole position by securing at least 62 seats. The PML-N can also claim to have secured a victory of its own, as it followed the ruling party as the close second, with 56 candidates coming out on top. The third largest political party in the country, PPP got its own prize as well, as early reports from Karachi indicated that out of the ten wards of Cantonment Board Clifton and Defence, considered the traditional stronghold of PTI, went mostly to PPP (at least eight).
The holding of local bodies’ elections in the vicinity of the Cantonments is a welcome development. It serves the broader purpose of grass-root representation, as well as an uninterrupted process of collecting taxes, managing civic services, and laying out developmental works in the military-cum-civilian residential areas. The periodic holding of Cantonment polls underscores the importance that these garrison-based residential-cum-commercial units attach to the power of the ballot, and the voice of the electorate.
This third major electoral exercise since the 2018 general elections, at the same time, points out at a laxity on the part of state authorities. There are no local bodies functioning across the country. The only exception is Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa which took a leap forward to install vibrant LB units. Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan are wondering as to why the constitutionally mandated exercise is not conducted, per se; and what prevents the authorities from empowering grassroots representation. Karachi is a classic case of governance failure which has been longing for the local tier since 2013.
The political significance of this particular result should serve as a wake-up call for the PPP, whose chairman, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, is eyeing the PM post in the next general elections, a prospect that seems quite unlikely considering it may not even be able to hold onto Sindh in 2023. Its failure to secure even a single seat in Punjab is also a stark reminder that the recent attempts to make inroads into the province through South Punjab have failed miserably.
On the other hand, the PML-N’s success in Punjab is another indicator of PTI’s inability to perform in the province over the past three years. The choice of Chief Minister in Mr Usman Buzdar coupled with a fragile majority largely dependent on the PML-Q and independent candidates, who have time and again publicly aired their grievances with the PTI leadership that did not make good on pre-lection promises nor provided necessary development funds to MPAs from various constituencies, became the primary reason for instability and poor governance in Punjab. Two days back, one of the central figures in Punjab politics and the PTI, Aleem Khan, submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Imran Khan a second time, citing ‘personal reasons’. Unless there is significant improvement in PTI’s performance over the next two years, it will have a tough time at the hustings convincing people to vote them back into power in Punjab.