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Opinion

August 10, 2018

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Not a promising start

“Today, political parties claim there was rigging. The first thing I will say is that this Election Commission was formed by the two main political parties, the PPP and the PML-N. This was not a PTI [constituted] Election Commission. I say to you today, if you say there was rigging in any one constituency, we will stand with you and aid in its investigation.

“...I say [if] in any constituency you want to investigate, we are ready to stand with you and investigate it. This is the cleanest election in Pakistan’s history.”This is what the PTI chairman and PM-in-waiting said in his victory speech. He also made lot of other promises and pledges during the speech.

Actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately, Imran Khan failed in his first test by taking yet another U-turn and backtracking from his promise by approaching the Supreme Court to stop a recount in his constituency (NA-131) which he won with a close margin of 676 votes.

The LHC had ordered the vote recount while allowing a petition moved by Khawaja Saad Rafique, the runner-up candidate from the constituency. During the hearing, the lawyer for Rafique argued before the court that Khan had won the July 25 elections from five constituencies and that the prime minister-in-waiting had in his victory speech promised to open for scrutiny constituencies where opposition parties allege rigging had taken place.

But on a petition filed by Imran’s lawyer Babar Awan, the Supreme Court of Pakistan suspended the Lahore High Court’ order for vote recount and directed Rafique’s lawyer to approach the relevant election tribunal with his complaint and request for a recount.

If what he said in his victory speech is true, then why is Imran Khan reluctant to hold the recount? Whatever argument and logic the PTI has to justify this action, it certainly has lost the high moral ground. This is not really a promising start.

Imran Khan always talks about institution building and has promised to strengthen state institutions. But at the same time, he has failed to build and develop democratic institutions within his own party. For example: why are the CMs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab not being elected or nominated by the respective provincial parliamentary party? This is reminiscent of the political authoritarianism exhibited by the Sharifs and Zardari in their respective parties.

It is made to seem like Imran is the only wise man in the party who knows everything and is capable of doing everything on his own. All this sounds familiar because we have seen other political leaders make decisions in such a manner. Imran Khan has always criticised PML-N and PPP leaders for establishing personal kingship within the party. He has been the chairman of the PTI since its founding in 1996. How can he bring a change in the country when he cannot bring a change in the party through democratic means? How can he strengthen the democratic culture in the country when he failed to do so in his own party?

All our mainstream political parties clearly lack internal democracy via regular and competitive party elections, effective intra-party structures and role of local party chapters in selecting party candidates for legislatures and local government. Internal democracy can only come about through regular meetings of parliamentary parties, a tradition of annual general meetings or conventions, discouragement of dynastic leadership, a broad funding base and credible party accounts, tolerance of intra-party dissent; a democratic decision-making process; and active participation of women, youth and minorities in party affairs.

Today’s politics revolves around legacies and personality cults rather than making political parties strong enough to choose their leaders and become democratic institutions. The members of the parties have no democratic control and oversight over the parliamentary party and leadership. The members of the parties play no role in the formation of policies, manifestos and political strategy. Only leaders belonging to the ruling class participate in the decision-making processes in the parties. The few leaders at the top and the parliamentary parties consider themselves to be the ‘real’ political parties.

Imran Khan won the July 25 general elections on the slogan and rhetoric of Naya Pakistan and change. PTI voters and supporters have high hopes that the Imran Khan led government will bring real change and will help build Naya Pakistan.

The PTI emerged as the single largest party in the July 25 elections but fell short of a simple majority to form government. So the party decided to build Naya Pakistan with old material, and signed power-sharing agreements with the MQM and other smaller parties. The eventual simple majority in the national and Punjab assemblies is the result of political compromises – marriage of convenience rather than a political alliance on a minimum agenda.

The PTI has done what both the PPP and the PML-N used to do in the past to gain the required majority in the national and Punjab assemblies. Since July 25, the PTI’s senior leader Jahangir Khan Tareen is said to have been very instrumental in bringing independent members-elect into the party folds. Reportedly, he took a long-drawn-out tour of the country via his private jet and succeeded in bringing several independents to Bani Gala to get them to join the PTI. Jahangir Tareen has given us some glimpses of the Changa Manga and Murree brand of politics of the 1990s. This is not a promising start to Naya Pakistan.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

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