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Tsunami: PTI’s rise in Pakistani politics

This article is part of a series of evidence-based analysis of Pakistan’s current political spectrum with the use of statistics, GIS and data visualization. We will further explore the position of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s electoral tsunami in the upcoming general elections 2013 to forecast if it has a realistic chance to win the next elections. 

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI has emerged as a new – some say ‘third’ – political force in Pakistani politics in the last one year or so. I have had many interactions with Jakob – fellow blogger at Rug Pundits – about PTI phenomenon and he suggested that I should write about its rise. That left me in a fix as PTI has been kept under microscope all this while with each move has been extensively discussed, rebuffed, criticized, appreciated and laughed at. There was very little room for someone like me to add to PTI-discussion since everyone from local news channels, newspapers, magazines to international media had covered Imran Khan’s popularity and his rise extensively.  Having said that, there was no systematic scientific study to gauge the impact of PTI in the upcoming general elections scheduled to be held in the mid of 2013. What little study has been studied, was confined to some well-known national and international surveys like PEW Poll or IRI.

IRI Survey (August 2012)

According to latest IRI survey that was released in August 2012, PTI has overall 36% approval rating at national level and was placed second after PMLN’s 43% approval rating but doing better than current government in Islamabad, PPP’s 21%. Let’s have a look at the pie-charts for each province and discuss this further in detail:


IRI Survey (July-August 2012) [Data]

PTI standings in KP & Baluchistan

In provinces, PTI is doing better than rivals in two smaller but most affected provinces in the ongoing US war in Afghanistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Baluchistan. People have tried both, right-wing Muttahida Mujlis-e-Amal , or MMA, an alliance of religious parties and left-wing PPP and ANP, in the last two terms and saw no change in policy and their circumstances where they have to face terror every day. Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), or commonly referred as PMLN, is a distant second in both the provinces and trying to lure in some strong political candidates and families to guarantee them some political strength in these provinces. However, the situation may not overly change in their favor in a short-span due to lack of any mentionable party presence there.

PTI in Sindh

In Sindh, a south-eastern province with the most populous city of Karachi, has been traditionally a stronghold of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of Bhutto’s. The rural part of Sindh was dominated by PPP vote bank and PPP is still the party to beat in that area. No other major party, including PMLN and PTI (placed second despite any concrete political activity in the rural areas) are in a position to challenge PPP in rural areas, but things have been moving recently and Sindhi nationalist parties and PML(F) a faction of PML lead by Pir Pagaro of Hurs is gaining momentum due to incompetence, mis-governance and corruption of PPP government in the province. Another bone of contention between Sindhi nationalists and PPP was current regime’s concession to Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) to divide the province into two local bodies systems; one for Karachi and the other for the rest of the Sindh. Nationalists see it as a move to concede to MQM’s demand to divide Sindh province into two. Two major urban centers of the province, Karachi and Hyderabad, housing mostly Urdu-speaking populous, is dominated by MQM.  MQM rules the city of Karachi with an iron fist and it will be difficult for any party, including PTI despite its massive rally in December last year, to win national assembly seats from Karachi if any.

PTI in Punjab

This brings us to the hub of political activity and power-center of Pakistan; Punjab province. The province has been ruled 5 times in the last 6 tenures (spanning over 30 years) by Sharif brothers lead PMLN when it wrestled province’s control from PPP during General Zia-ul-Haq regime. Punjab, mostly inhabited by large middle-class conscious of what each political party has to offer, is the first to welcome any change. It is the province where PPP has been drastically shrinking over the last 5 years, mostly because it is seen as corrupt and partly due to the efforts of PMLN government in the province (opposition party in the center). One power’s demise gives way to another’s rise – PTI on the other hand has quickly filled the void and although PMLN still enjoys a better position, it is under pressure from PTI’s rising popularity in Punjab. This map will help us see the sheer dominance that PMLN enjoys in upper and central Punjab districts:


PML (both N and Q factions) vs PPP in Punjab (2008 elections)

PTI is the party that appeals to urban populous and Punjab housing 5 of the 8 major urban centers of the country, has seen bulk of the PTI’s political activity. A recent JWT survey (discussed in detail later), conducted in 8 major cities of Pakistan, also confirm PTI’s massive appeal to the young voters who want change. PTI is vying for power in the next term and has challenged PMLN in the province; the blatant attacks on Punjab government’s use of funds and mis-governance and the bulk of activity in PMLN dominated areas speaks volume about the route PTI is going to take. This is understandable as many political analysts also believe that PTI has to conquer Punjab in order to make a government in the Islamabad. Although, PTI has not slowed down on its attack on PMLN’s provincial government, it has also recently started a drive to connect with voters in the mostly rural South Punjab where PPP is receding. South Punjab, according to current constituency delimitations, has 68 national assembly seats which can be make or break for both PTI and PMLN if they are to form next government in the center. PPP and to some extent PML(Q) which heavily relied on political heavy-weights to win seats from somewhat feudal south of the province are fast losing their political candidates to the rival PMLN faction. PTI on the other hand has heavily invested in the slogan of ‘Change’ and has vowed youth and not-aligned voters of the past.

IRI Surveys: Feb 2012 vs. Aug 2012

There has been a lot of talk regarding PTI’s downward trend after the second IRI survey of political parties standings was released in August 2012 which showed that PTI has lost some ground to rival PMLN in Punjab, which resulted in its standing being affected on overall national graph. However, this is not entirely true. After a honeymoon period where PTI grew exponentially in the year 2010-2011, the graph shows that PTI has actually consolidated its ground affectively against the onslaught of Pakistan’s highly volatile TV and print media that can be exploited easily with the use of government funds. PTI in this regard has heavily relied on social media; facebook, twitter and group messaging services like PrintIt. Here is the comparison which shows that little has changed on ground for both PTI and PMLN despite brouhaha that is being raised in TV’s political talk shows:


IRI Survey: August 2012 [Data] vs Feb 2012 [Data]

One interesting aspect of this comparison is that in the second survey, almost all parties lost rating but their average remains almost the same. PTI was able to create positive vibes of change in 2010-2011 through excessive campaigning and street protests and got general public interested in the regime change, but that positive vibe gave way to frustration after highly negative reporting in Pakistani TV and print media in the year 2012 and all parties have been on the losing end as the result.


Voters Density (by District) [Data]

Young Urban Voters

A total of 37.2 million fake votes were expunged from 2008 electoral lists and 40 million voters were corrected and new voters added. These new voters who have never voted before is the vote bank the new emerging political force PTI is eyeing in the coming elections. Here is a pie-chart showing why PTI thinks that mass youth support can propel it to the victory stand in the general elections; 40.5 million or 48% of total voters are in the youth age bracket of 18-35 years which PTI announced to give 25% of the party tickets in the elections.


Registered voters by age [Data] Source: ECP

A recent survey released by JWT in December 2012, asked youth in the 8 major urban centers of Pakistan, what party they will vote for in the upcoming elections. In 5 major cities, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad/Rawalpindi (twin cities), Multan and Quetta, PTI emerged as the most popular political party amongst youth. Faisalabad is still stronghold of Punjab’s ruling PMLN, and Karachi and Hyderabad of MQM. In a surprise result, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), the biggest religious party, is second-most popular in Hyderabad out bidding both MQM and PPP – both all-powerful parties of Sindh vying for control in Hyderabad.


JWT Survey (Dec 2012) [Data]

One cursory look at the above graph reveals the mass support amongst youth that PTI enjoys revealing it has indeed been able to stir up interest in Pakistan’s otherwise apolitical youth.  There is one interesting aspect to this survey’s result depicted in the second map below. If you plot 5 urban centers where PTI has scored big, they all belong in upper part of the country; in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Quetta too lies in the Pushtun belt of the Baluchistan province. PTI has not faired badly in two other cities, Faisalabad – in central Punjab – a big financial center of Punjab and the country’s financial hub – Karachi. PTI which has around 15% approval rating in Sindh, surprisingly, has no youth support in Hyderabad which is second biggest city of the province.


PTI, however, does not rely on urban youth for its popularity and Imran Khan specifically invested his time and efforts in the students’ wing of PTI – Insaf Students Federation (ISF). ISF formed in 2007 has already become Pakistan’s biggest student body and PTI thinks of ISF as its trump card to fuel its election campaign and propel it to victory on the polling day. The impact can be judged from the fact that all candidates fielded by ISF in intra-party elections for Union Councils (UC) in Hazara division won easily against established local political groups.

PTI activity impact in year 2011-2012

PTI, along with Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and some other nationalist parties, boycotted 2008 general election on the pretext that it will not participate in an election held by a dictator; then President General Pervez Musharraf. PMLN, opposition party in center, also initially boycotted the elections but was forced to participate after US pressure and several attempts by Zardari, then new co-chairperson of PPP after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. This left PTI on the streets and it has been mobilizing people on the streets on every domestic or national issue of note lately to get its message across to both people and the parliament. Although, PTI had been on the streets in the last five years, especially during Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s restoration movement lead by lawyers, but has been most active in the last two years, 2011 and 2012, with their political rallies, protests and membership campaigns.

PTI has done massive membership campaign during the two middle quarters of 2012 and has been able to mobilize its supporters, new youth voters and vowed a large chunk of silent majority that does not vote in elections. PTI claims to have made more than 10 million members during their membership drive and has finally announced 7 million verified party members.


This map may not provide us complete picture of what impact PTI may have eventually but it may give us a hint. The attendance data used to plot this map was derived from PTI’s own claims and different media sources. According to the compiled data, PTI had mobilized 1.5 to 2 million supporters in the last two years. To some analysts, it has seized the initiative and brought youth and silent majority of traditionally un-interested voters to its side.

Tsunami: Projected Impact in Elections 2013

According to a recent verdict by Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP), where it directed National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to help take out fake voters from 2008 electoral lists, about 53% of the total voters were bogus. Sindh, Baluchistan and FATA areas had more than half of its voters on the lists curbed as fake voters. This will further dent old political parties’ prospects that have had intelligence agencies support and used fake votes as part of the rigging campaigns in the past; the biggest examples quoted in this regard are electoral victories of PMLN in 1990 and 1997, and PMLQ victory in 2002. A recent SCP order on the famous Asghar Khan Case, which proved that Pakistan’s premier spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directed funds to its favored candidates in 1990 general elections to help them win against Benazir Bhutto lead PPP. The money had favorable response and Nawaz Sharif had been able to form government and become Prime Minister for the first time. His second victory in 1997, a massive two-third majority this time, has also been criticized; although, he was poised to win but then President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari favored Nawaz Sharif and helped him achieve such a big manufactured mandate.

I earlier shared a graph that showed 53% fake voters expunged by ECP from 2008 voters lists. Here it is again:


And the votes polled for each major political party in comparison with PTI’s members:


If we fix this graph by removing percentage fake votes and expect each PTI member to influence 2 others on the polling day (Pakistanis vote in groups and have strong affinity to family-choice than individual-choice. An average family size in Pakistan is 6 people/family. So, while arguing that one member [a member is more than a voter; the number of voters who say they will vote for a certain party are huge in comparison to party’s members] can influence at least 2 others, I think I am being conservative here), the projection is something similar to this:


This is what PTI Chairman Imran Khan refers to as ‘Tsunami of Change’. However, we have no way to judge if the final results will be as skewed as above graph and we expect old political forces to do better than this but despite their vast experience and long presence in the political arena, they have little that can attract disgruntled masses after their dismal performance in the financial disastrous time. In my personal opinion, though, the margin of victory may not be as skewed as the above graph but if PTI is able to hold its ground until the polling day, it will take clear majority to form next government.

Concluding Remarks

Our Tsunami projection gave us some 21 million votes which is pretty skewed, as I said earlier, since PPP got 10.6 million votes (13.53% of total votes) in the last elections and the total votes in NA wins were 17.9 million. This 21 million is more than ever achieved by any party in Pakistan; PMLN in their famous 2/3 majority mandate in 1997 elections got 8.75 million. PTI wants to bring out non-aligned voters, especially youth and women to achieve its tsunami. According to some estimates, if PTI is able to bring more than 10% of non-aligned voters on the polling day, it will win elections; 44.23% voters voted in 2008 elections (remember fake votes here).

But let’s not bask too much on this. I will further this study to PTI’s strength in each district with its members data, to judge if PTI will be in a place to challenge two established rivals in a head-to-head race. Rest assured, 4 more parts of this study to follow for each province.

About Yasir Hussain Sheikh

Sells carpets and crunches numbers. Ecommerce and geospatial analytics.


20 thoughts on “Tsunami: PTI’s rise in Pakistani politics

  1. very informative, there is logic behind whole analysis.

    Posted by nshah | December 25, 2012, 5:53 PM
  2. Good logical analysis! Nice work

    Posted by Rizwa | December 25, 2012, 10:13 PM
  3. This is the best researched and unbiased analysis I have read anywhere about PTI; well researched and compiled. Brilliant job at data mapping. Can I use it at my own blog?

    Posted by Asim | December 25, 2012, 10:39 PM
  4. Yaar …………… this is really fantastic. It is so thorough that I was surprised. I dont know if you are are officially involved in PTI but PTI should consult you for more in-depth analyses like this one.

    Posted by GReatIK | December 25, 2012, 10:43 PM
  5. Excellent work. A clear and dispassionate analysis. Appreciated.

    Posted by S. Iqbal | December 26, 2012, 1:23 AM
  6. awesome compilation. but i fear, that for the very last step you make, from the second last to the last graph, you need better arguments to back that up. as you say yourself, you would doubt such a stark bias, but unfortunately the 21mio number would be what people jump at. 7 mio to be fair, would already be quite an astonishing result, i think to take the claim further we would need to attempt to do some more impact analysis, rather than just make a simple ‘1 person will bring 2 more’ assumption.

    Posted by Jakob Steiner | December 26, 2012, 2:39 AM
    • Thanks for pointing that out, Jakob. I realized later that it lacked detail (which I am going to add now). Pakistanis vote in groups and have strong affinity to family-choice than individual-choice. An average family size in Pakistan is 6 people/family. So, while arguing that one member (a member is more than a voter; the number of voters who say they will vote for a certain party are huge in comparison to its members) can influence at least 2 others, I think I am being conservative here. That is just an assumption. I may be wrong.

      Moreover, about the conclusion part, I want to further my study to each province and district to arrive at a conclusion. That may just be an assumption derived from data analysis and we’ll get back to it once elections results are here and we can judge if our assumptions were right.

      Posted by Yasir H. Sheikh | December 26, 2012, 3:17 AM
  7. Excellent effort!

    Posted by paras | December 26, 2012, 3:01 AM
  8. Thoroughly researched and consolidated. Sources are authentic. Clearly shows the writer has a view of bigger picture… Would love to see more such articles in future!

    Posted by Fahad | December 26, 2012, 7:03 PM
  9. grate job YASIR H. SHEIKH its all about planing phase to win election 🙂

    Posted by Tayyab Fayyaz | December 26, 2012, 8:34 PM
  10. Excellent job. This research analyzes each and every factor impact upcoming based on scientific methods and techniques. However the match is not yet finished. We all Insafians have to work hard to support our party in what ever way we can do. Remember PTI campaign is not about Right and Left politics, but about Right and Wrong.

    Posted by Shakeel N | December 27, 2012, 6:26 PM
  11. Good work and best analysis

    Posted by Asif Khan | December 28, 2012, 12:03 PM
  12. Hello Yasir, the entire analysis is really good and spot-on as I’ve mentioned on FB as well. I wonder if you could perhaps, add some details on why has PTI’s popularity not soared much (or at all) after last year’s exponential rise after Lahore’s jalsa?

    Is it okay if I share it on my blog (with due credits of course); my blog is not commercial.

    I wonder if you would find it appropriate to write sometihng on PTI’s strategy of accepting fuedals, turncoats etc and also what is going on with PTI’s internal elections.

    Btw, a cousin just sms’ed me that he was able to cast a bogus vote in PTI’s internal elections. He had his father has been telling PTI’s ‘karta-dharta’s’ on how flawed their vote casting system is but this was all in vain which I guess prompted my cousin to cast a bogus vote (I don’t appreciate it but his intentions were good). I’ve asked him details on what the flaws are so that I can share them with some PTI’ top officials but if you have any good contacts at PTI, I could really use some help.

    Once again, a very good write-up and you should try to get it published at other media outlets; it will totally rock. I have the contact of Express Tribune web team’s head if you need (though you being a writer for Dawn may not need any help on this) but let me know 🙂

    Posted by Le Mystique | December 28, 2012, 9:58 PM
  13. Excellent effort! Good work and best analysis.

    Posted by Khuram Shahzad Hussain | December 30, 2012, 1:45 AM
  14. Do you realize that unlike media hullaboo created by PTI, there weren’t ‘fake’ voters as such? http://www.newslinemagazine.com/2012/02/the-case-of-pakistans-%E2%80%98bogus-voters%E2%80%99/

    Posted by Shahid | January 10, 2013, 12:09 AM
  15. in last one year PTI’s popularity has taken a full stop. don’t know why?

    Posted by Moin Ramiz | February 27, 2013, 9:46 PM
  16. Yasir this is good survey… bravo

    But if one is able to collect the spatial data dynamically, it will further improvize the objectivity presented here…

    Posted by Nabeel | March 27, 2013, 2:29 AM

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December 2012


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