IPP's Punjab quest

Zebunnisa Burki
Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) leaders Jahangir Khan Tareen (3rd left), Abdul Aleem Khan (4th left) and others pose for a group photo during the partys workers convention in Kamoke, Punjab on November 26, 2023. — Facebook/Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party
Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party (IPP) leaders Jahangir Khan Tareen (3rd left), Abdul Aleem Khan (4th left) and others pose for a group photo during the party's workers convention in Kamoke, Punjab on November 26, 2023. — Facebook/Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party

KARACHI: The Istehkam-e-Pakistan Party has not managed to sway candidates its way unlike previous 'king's parties', but could attract the PTI’s successful ‘independent’ candidates post-election, say election experts when asked for their insight into the newest kid on the Punjab block.

Head of Geo's Election Cell Nadia Malik says that "the IPP is probably looking to take NA97 Faisalabad, NA143 Sahiwal, NA155 Lodhran, NA117 Lahore, NA149 Multan — though in many of these, the other candidates are very strong." According to Malik, the PML-N’s alliance with the IPP and seat adjustment with them is on "National Assembly seats where the PML-N itself was weak or didn’t have strong candidates."

Is it possible for the IPP to get more seats post-election through independents — like PTI candidates — who join in? Malik says that it "depends on how the post-election scenario plays out and what benefits the independents more. But the political future would be a concern for people who win with PTI supporters since they are familiar with the anger of PTI supporters. Then again, ministries and protocols have their own charm."

The IPP on its part is taking the seats it is contesting seriously it seems. During a press conference on Friday, IPP Patron-in-Chief Jahangir Tareen had said that he was very happy to be contesting from his "home constituency" of Multan, calling the city an area that is their "identity". Tareen called Multan his "focus", emphasising what he would do to develop the Multan constituency.

Talking to The News, senior PML-N leader Rana Mashhood Ahmad Khan who is also the vice president of PML-N Punjab says: "IPP is our strategic partner. At the time of the VoNC, these friends and allies stood on the right side of history. Their stance was that they had been defrauded [by the PTI] and that this fraud was not just perpetrated against them but also against their constituents. So they participated in the VoNC. We respect these individuals."

Rana Mashhood explains the current seat adjustment policy finalised by the PML-N: "The problem is that in every constituency we [PML-N] have very strong people with very long-standing affinity and affiliation with us. So there was a large undertaking done through which we adjusted seats with the most important IPP allies since moving to the side of all our dedicated party candidates was going to be a challenge. It has to be mentioned here that on average in one constituency we have had 12-15 nominations — and I’m talking averages here; in some places, there were more than 30 nominations — so getting these people to move to the side as we accommodated allies and then getting our voters to vote not for the 'sher' but for another symbol: these were challenges but we have faith in our supporters that they are politically mature and this adjustment that we have done now will work and that it will work also beyond the elections in this spirit."

Where does he see PTI independents going? Rana Mashhood says that "independents usually end up going to the party that has the strongest chance of forming the government, the party that can help them get work done in their constituencies."

For journalist Hassan Iftikhar who has taken a thorough look at Punjab's current electoral situation, "The IPP has been a massive failure. Unlike other kings' parties that are made before elections, the IPP hasn't been able to capture the imagination of independents [from the PTI]."

Iftikhar gives a quick rundown of IPP numbers: "I think the IPP is only contesting from 11 or so National Assembly constituencies from Punjab and there’s one from Islamabad. The PML-N has not adjusted seats with the IPP in all these constituencies. There have been seat adjustments on two seats in Lahore — 117 where Aleem Khan is contesting and 128 from where Awn Chaudhry is contesting. There’s one in Sahiwal on Noman Langrial’s seat. In Taxila, they have a seat adjustment against Chaudhry Nisar and have not fielded a candidate against the IPP’s Ghulam Sarwar although they have fielded one candidate on the provincial seat there. In Lodhran, Jahangir Tareen is facing the PML-N’s Siddique Baloch but Tareen has instead managed to get the PTI candidate to not contest so Lodhran is now a contest between the IPP and PML-N. In Multan, the PML-N has made a seat adjustment with Tareen. On other seats, the PML-N has fielded its candidates.”

Iftikhar says that there are many constituencies where strong PTI candidates have chosen to remain PTI candidates, even if independent now: “For example, in Bhakkar we have the Nawani Group that changes affiliation based on which way the power winds are blowing — they are very strong locally. This time too they are contesting independently. Even though many people are being pressured to go to the IPP, they are not choosing to go to the party and are rather contesting independently.”

So does that mean that PTI independents won’t go to the IPP after winning? Iftikhar says that they could: "it could be that these independent candidates contest on the PTI’s name and then when they win they join in with the IPP. Right now, the establishment’s favourite party is the IPP."

Iftikhar points out another — possibly the most — interesting thing in all this: "Tareen is contesting on a provincial seat as is Aleem Khan who is also contesting on one provincial seat. This has naturally led to speculation that in the next setup, Punjab may get an IPP chief minister." Given a choice, he feels the PML-N may agree to Aleem Khan as CM over Tareen as CM. The reason being that Aleem Khan may get their constituency work done. Calling this the PML-N’s "war of survival", Iftikhar explains that the PML-N’s voter is not an ideological voter but one who depends on governance work being done in constituencies. For that, says Iftikhar, "the PML-N would obviously rather have their own chief minister but if not, they’d want someone who’d get their work done."

Journalist Majid Nizami is also reading the IPP room in terms of the party’s "first priority" which he says is to "reach the assemblies — that’s it." Nizami also feels that the IPP is facing a "problematic situation, in the sense that after seat adjustment with the PML-N now at least three PML-N people are contesting against them as independents. For example, in Taxila opposite the IPP’s Ghulam Sarwar Khan, we now have Barrister Aqeel Malik contesting as an independent candidate. In Khushab, opposing Ghulam Asghar of the IPP is Moazzam Kallu, a former PML-N MPA. Then we have Chaudhry Tufail in Noman Langrial’s constituency. On many seats, PML-N candidates have appeared, some even as independents. So the IPP is in big trouble."

But would it hurt the PML-N if it doesn't field a candidate of its party and then its own people contest as independents on those very seats? Nizami says "Not at all." He goes on to explain that: “Whoever wins the election, will join the PML-N. If the IPP wins the seat that goes to the PML-N and if an independent candidate wins he or she too will join the PML-N.”

And what about independent PTI candidates — since PTI candidates are now going to be contesting as independents: are there any who could give a tough time to the PML-N or the IPP? Nizami says there’s a healthy number of those who can. What is the realistic position of the IPP getting some seats? According to Nizami, this is a tough question. He feels that "Aleem Khan could win, Tareen could be a possible winner from Multan — not Lodhran — though in Multan Rana Mahmoodul Hasan of the PML-N moved his whole group and joined the PPP, so the equation in Multan too became imbalanced."

Originally published in The News