Imran Khan is miles ahead of his rivals in PML-N when it comes to narrative construction, enabling him to set records for political rallies, crush electables in the polls, quash the military’s monopoly on nationalism, and utterly dominate the internet arena.
But PMLN’s story has only gotten more confusing as time has passed. Following the Supreme Court’s decision to remove Nawaz Sharif from office, the party’s narrative centred on two pillars: the anti-establishment slogan “Vote ko izzat dou,” and the reputation of being the best administrators “Khidmat ko vote do.” The two strands complemented and competed with one another, eventually becoming entangled only to unravel under Imran’s attack following the vote of no-confidence.
Now that PM Shehbaz Sharif’s reputation as the most capable administrator has been tarnished, and PTI is now the owner of Maryam Nawaz’s anti-establishment battle cry, doubt about what the PMLN actually stands for and which narrative to build for electoral benefits predominates.
Analysing the inability of PML-N to attract the youth
In order to determine what went wrong with the PMLN’s narrative and story-telling, we can only look at the tools and channels the party’s members have been using to spread their message. The criticisms mainly centre on the party’s ineffective use of social media and its inability to reach young and educated voters with its message.
Most analysts fail to account for the message’s content and quality as well as the narrator’s credibility. While the party’s commitment to infrastructural development is admirable as Pakistan’s need for improved transportation and communication networks is pressing, it is no longer enough to win over Pakistan’s educated, youthful, and urban middle-class voters on its own.
PML-N is stuck in the 90s with its poor rhetoric
The PMLN continues to rely on an antiquated strategy of winning over people by making promises to build roads, metros, and bridges. These promises worked wonders in the 1990s politics, but are outdated in 2022 when Pakistan is transitioning into the digital age of information.
Pakistan’s middle-class, which is regularly spit on by the establishment and stung by the state’s indifference, will inevitably support the opposition party that campaigns on a platform of systemic change. The urban middle class in Pakistan now wants structural changes, an end to the elite appropriation of public resources, quick access to justice, reforms in state institutions, equality of opportunity, social welfare initiatives, high-quality education and access to clean water and quality healthcare.
Prior to the vote of no-confidence, PTI’s vote bank had almost exhausted itself, not because of its opponents’ narrative but rather because of Imran’s inability to deliver on these pledges.
Just in terms of story and rhetoric, one side is relying on anti-corruption rhetorics while the other promotes the idea that nations may advance even when there is corruption in government. The PTI promises the youth meritocracy — though, the promises are nothing more than hollow rhetorcis — while the other has baby dynasts queued up to occupy a leadership role. In the current age of social media, with a larger middle class, more awareness, and internet connectedness, the sloganeering of the 1990s and optics of dynastic politics are no longer relevant.
Similarly, The PMLN has also been unable to realise the anti-American attitudes that have permeated Pakistani society as a result of the state’s and molvis’ concerted efforts to create a society that is hostile to the west. No matter how true this perspective is, the “beggars can not be choosers” attitude will scarcely appeal to the people in such a situation. Because they can tap into the general anti-American sentiment among Pakistanis, that is the only way the PTI is able to prosper off of American criticism.
The PMLN has to recognise that despite Imran’s failure to deliver on his promise of a Naya Pakistan, the voters were quick to forget about his three years in office and consume his message. The public now sees Imran’s anti-establishment position as consistent with his politics of challenging the status quo.
Imran’s claims that all crooks have joined against him were borne out by the optics of the way the vote of no-confidence was executed; which saw thirteen parties join hands to oust him while the establishment pulling the strings from behind. This gave voters an explanation for why Imran was unable to get anything done in office: the system was set up to fail him.
PML-N and dynastic politics
In addition to a message that is out of date, the PMLN’s other enemy is the lack of trust surrounding its primary narrators. Imran Khan is well-refuted for being trustworthy and honest despite all of his afflictions. In contrast, even if corruption cases are disregarded against the Sharif family, Maryam and Hamza lack the personal achievements to rival Imran’s remarkable resume.
Imran Khan’s personal achievements as a cricketing great and philanthropist, along with twenty-six years of political struggle, make him a lot more credible narrator than Maryam or Hamza, whose sole qualification for leading a big political party is their DNA.
The absence of personal achievements reinforces the perception that these families are merely dynasties, a trait that is increasingly mocked by the youth. There is a remarkable lack of awareness among the Sharifs regarding the public’s altered mood and the fact that past optics no longer elicit the same response.
Poor optics surrounding its leaders
The public admonition of public officials by the Prime Minister and his son resembles the antics of a school principal. People anticipate that the executive leadership will enact procedures and mechanisms to ensure effective governance, as opposed to conducting surprise visits under the glare of the media spotlight and angrily pointing fingers at lower-level officials, which have no net effect on improving governance.
In terms of antiquated optics, Maryam can easily rival her uncle and cousin. She commands Miftah Ismail, the country’s finance minister, publicly on Twitter in a manner akin to a princess commanding her personal servant. Maryam exudes an air of exclusivity and richness because of her evident liking for premium items that is not desirable for significant political person.
The PMLN’s citadel in Punjab was breached by the PTI, demonstrating the decreasing importance of the baradari vote and electables. Voters in the sharply divided electorate now favour narrative above performance. Due to its out-of-date rhetoric and lackluster dynastic leadership, PMLN has struggled to appeal to the most important demographics.
The party must reassess its fundamental goals and how the Sharif family’s involvement is seen if it is to thrive in the digital age. Pakistanis are no longer awestruck by the uninspired hereditary leadership, as they favours leaders who are prepared to criticise and challenge the preexisting governing paradigms. The PMLN will continue to suffer from the reputation of being the status quo party if it does not change the content of its message, its narrator of the story, and the optics that they create, even if it spent all of its money on digital media or persuasive messaging.