The preliminary results of the 2018 general elections show that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)is set to form its first ever federal government in the country. However, these elections have been marred because of allegations of widespread rigging from all major parties — except of course, the PTI. They have pointed out long delays in official announcement of results in a number of key constituencies, and have accused electoral staff of violating rules and regulations. Numerous politicians have said they were denied a level playing field in the run-up to the election, and a number of reports published in international media have accused the establishment of meddling in political affairs by supporting the PTI. A number of PML-N insiders claim that a PTI-Judiciary-Establishment nexus is bent on removing them from power. The three have strongly denied these assertions, but still the timing of a flurry of judgements against key PML-N leaders and allegations by a senior judge of the Islamabad High Court of interference by the intelligence agencies in judicial affairs have raised extremely disturbing questions about the neutrality of key state institutions. While the debate continues on the role various institutions have played in electioneering, over 16 million votes, the PTI victory cannot be solely attributed to electoral manipulation. It is therefore important to understand the structural factors that have propelled PTI to the fore. Recent doctoral research by the author shows that a number of key socio-economic changes have substantially altered the demographic make up and the electoral landscape in Pakistan. In particular, considerable expansion of the salaried class has had a key bearing on the fortunes of various political parties in the country, including PTI. A young, educated, middle-class, urban population has emerged that is tech savvy and has its own set of aspirations. These include a desire for meritocracy, good governance, accountability and an abhorrence for corruption Traditionally, the salaried class in Pakistan remained confined to the public sector or at best within the small scale industrial sector. The exponential rise in the services industry however (now accounting for over 60 percent of GDP), particularly fast growing sectors such as banking, insurance, mobile telecommunications, IT, NGOs, private media, education, health and legal services have considerably expanded the white collar salaried professional class. This has accentuated demand for quality education and state investment in human development as a key for upward social mobility. Rampant urbanisation has created new lifestyle aspirations, new modes of collective bargaining and financial independence from traditional kinship networks. Furthermore, 60 percent of the population is under 30 years of age because of the high rate of population growth. All of these factors have led to the emergence of a young, educated, middle-class, urban population that is tech savvy and has its own set of aspirations. These include a desire for meritocracy, good governance, accountability and an abhorrence for corruption, nepotism and dynastic politics. These are attributes that have come to be associated with traditional political parties in popular imagination. Furthermore, being salaried professionals they feel disproportionately burdened by tax liabilities as compared to the business class who they think evade tax despite maintaining lavish lifestyles. More importantly, this emerging class is neither a direct beneficiary, nor part of the patronage networks built over years by the traditional political parties by providing public jobs or contracts. These networks mostly operate on the basis of already existing ties along ethnicity, caste, tribe or other types of social affiliations that are still strong in rural areas. They work through intermediaries (mostly local notables) that provide the masses limited access to the state through their association with political parties with realistic chance of getting into power. PTI’s emergence in the last two decades therefore, coincides with the expansion of the urban, educated, middle-class youth that relates little with traditional political parties and their increasingly obsolete modes of politics. Imran Khan’s party has been able to capture the imagination of this expanding section of society by epitomising their concerns, frustrations and aspirations and is now reaping the electoral rewards. Although in term of sheer numbers, this constituency may still not be able to take any party over the finishing line on its own, their influence on the popular discourse and domination of electronic and social media affects other sections of society. Particularly, it creates aspirations among the lower classes for similar lifestyles and shapes their political orientation. While retaining this core support base in urban areas, PTI further expanded its coalition before 2018 elections by actively incorporating ‘electables’ (local intermediaries) in areas where patronage networks persist. The formidable alliance thus created delivered the party its first ever electoral victory at the federal level. Lastly, this is also the demographic that now increasingly dominates key state institutions including the military, judiciary, bureaucracy and media therefore any active or tacit support to PTI from their personnel would as much be a result of their shared class consciousness, world view and aspirations as a strategic calculation to settle political scores. The challenge for traditional political parties therefore is to see beyond the institutional power equation and understand the deeper underlying social changes that they have failed to adapt to. Only by making themselves attractive to the rising urban youth can the old parties have a realistic chance of bouncing back. The writer has a PhD from Oxford University and an MPhil from Cambridge. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Published in Daily Times, August 1st 2018.