Political Realities

Political Realities
Definite conclusions about the nature and direction of politics in Pakistan can be drawn from the results of the first phase of local elections in Sindh and Punjab that concluded last week. These lessons will determine the fate of the general elections in 2018, particularly for the PPP and PTI that have done badly in Punjab which determines who will eventually rule in Islamabad.

In Punjab, the PMLN has won nearly 45% of the seats, the PTI took about 11% and the PPP less than 2%. Critically, Independents swept through nearly 40% of the constituencies. This signals many important conclusions for all stakeholders.

First, the PMLN has broadly maintained its vote bank despite the destabilization and criticism of the PTI. This suggests deep roots in the province that it has ruled one way or another since the 1980s. Second, the PTI’s rigging allegations in the general elections against the PMLN have been conclusively disproved and it can breathe a sigh of relief and try to build on this success for the next general elections. Third, the rise of so many independents should be a wake up call for the PMLN because it is the party in power with the ability to bestow largesse on the winning candidates. It shows that the PMLN’s selection of candidates did not often meet with the approval of voters. In other words, the PMLN must be sensitive to an awakening amongst the masses for accountability and reflect this in awarding party tickets not only on the basis of established groups and caste loyalties but also on the character and credibility of candidates.

The PTI has to take radical stock of its tactics and strategy too. Its threat of developing a significant platform of local grassroots politicians to pose a challenge to the PMLN in the next general elections has not materialized. This means the PTI must start thinking positively in terms of developing a dynamic party structure that yields dividends in the electoral process instead of banking on negative tactics of conspiring to destabilize the polity by short-cutting to power on the back of “third umpires”. In short, the PTI movement led by Imran Khan has to be transformed into a PTI party led by hundreds of little Imran Khans across the local landscape. Shafqat Mahmood’s resignation as PTI’s Punjab Election Organizer for failing to deliver results is a pointer in the right direction. He must write a report detailing the problems and the PTI should act on it with sincerity.

Finally, Imran Khan must get off his high horse and put his house in order no less than his party. His political policy U-turns have disturbed PTI loyalists. Now his personal life is in a shambles. There is as much unsavoury controversy over his decision to divorce Reham Khan as his decision to marry her in the first place less than a year ago. This single decision has divided party, family and friends like no other issue and disillusioned his voters. It reflects badly on his judgment of people no less than his judgments on political issues. No leader can afford to be a moral maverick and expect a wide berth from supporters for long, especially in a conservative country like Pakistan. If Reham Khan were to hit back with a tell-tale book of her time with Imran Khan, it would be a runaway bestseller and damage him enormously.

If the results of the last general elections were not sufficient proof of the fact that the PPP has been reduced to becoming a regional Sindh party, these local elections have confirmed it conclusively. The PPP is nowhere in Punjab. But it has won 65% of local seats in eight districts in rural Sindh in the first phase. This has prompted Mr Zardari to claim that the naysayers predicting doom and gloom have been proven wrong. In fact, however, the reality is to the contrary. Mr Zardari’s Sindh vote bank is based on Sindhi nationalism as much as the politics of feudal patronage that stands atop the graves of three Bhutto martyrs rather than any sign of good governance or accountability. This is the very basis of sub-nationalism that defines regionalism rather than national integration.

The PPP in Sindh, PML in Punjab and PTI in KP have all benefited from the advantage of distributing power and patronage by virtue of being in provincial office. But the rising phenomenon of independents everywhere suggests that the voter is becoming more demanding and delivery and accountability will progressively triumph over biradari and caste in future elections. This is a good omen for democracy. FAFEN, the election watchdog, has also certified that these elections were cleaner than the last ones. So we are on the right track on this score. But we need a national two party system for political stability. The sooner the PPP or PTI gets its act together, the better.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.