With Imran Behind Bars, PTI's Leadership Crisis Continues

With its top leadership jailed or in hiding, PTI is rife with internal bickering, power moves, promotion of new faces and loyalists expressing discontent as the party's current leadership crisis leaves many with the feeling that the PTI is currently rudderless

With Imran Behind Bars, PTI's Leadership Crisis Continues

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) thought it had resolved its leadership crisis after electing leaders to manage party affairs, both inside and outside the Parliament, even as its tier-1 leadership remains incarcerated. Recent outbursts, however, show that the party remains mired in a leadership crisis, with upstarts staking claim to authority in the party.

This is sowing confusion among party ranks over the PTI's definitive position on key issues, prompting some cracks to become apparent. In the midst of this confusion, a bevy of new faces have cropped up in the party recently and are influencing party policy, which is vexing for longstanding, 'loyalist' members of the party.

Earlier this month, the PTI elected unopposed Barrister Gohar Ali Khan as the party's new chairman in an intra-party election which was deemed acceptable by the Supreme Court and the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). The failure to hold such an election before was cited as the prime reason by the two state institutions to withdraw the party's symbol and thus its platform from the elections at the eleventh hour. 

Omar Ayub Khan was similarly elected as secretary-general. Even though Barrister Gohar was picked by party founder Imran Khan for the role, many party loyalists are split on his appointment and consider him an outsider who has parachuted in to usurp power.

Omar Ayub Khan, who was picked as the party's parliamentary leader and made the Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly, is also seen by some as an outsider when compared to party stalwarts who have spent decades with the party.

The vacuum created by the incarceration or disappearance of the party's top-tier leadership since May 9, 2023, has meant that party members left behind remain sceptical of the 'B-team' calling shots in the party. It does not help when the party remains divided over what stance or action to adopt over various issues and publicly bickers over the best route. 

Former prime minister and PTI founder Imran Khan, though, continues to make key decisions from behind bars. He recently okayed Omar Ayub's appointment as the party's parliamentary leader and the leader of the opposition in the national assembly. Further, he had approved the name of outspoken PTI member Sher Afzal Marwat as the party's nominee for the key post of chairman for the Public Accounts Committee — Parliament's indigenous accountability body.

Under the Charter of Democracy (CoD) — signed among major parliamentary parties except the PTI — the slot for PAC Chairman is given to the opposition to keep the government in check. In the past, the leader of the opposition in the national assembly would also take on the role of PAC chief. This parliamentary tradition, however, was discontinued in the 14th National Assembly (NA) when former PTI member Noor Alam Khan was appointed as the chairman of the committee instead of the Leader of the Opposition, Raja Riaz.

Even though the party has nominated Omar Ayub Khan for the slot of the leader of the opposition, filing the requisite documentation in the national assembly secretariat, the National Assembly Speaker has yet to take any action on it.

The argument being presented by some is that Omar Auyb Khan and all other members of the Sunni Ittehad Council (SIC) do not qualify for the constitutional post as SIC was not a party that registered any members with the ECP to contest the February 8 elections. Some members argue that all members of SIC who have been elected to Parliament had contested as independent candidates, including the party chief, Sahibzada Hamid Raza. Hence, the SIC cannot be considered a parliamentary party and thus cannot be accorded the position of Leader of the Opposition.

Talking about the uncertainty surrounding leadership within the party, former federal interior minister Shehryar Afridi told The Friday Times that there was always room for improvement.

"Although there is some confusion due to the temporary vacuum in the party's leadership, things will definitely improve," a hopeful Afridi said, adding that those who perform will be promoted in position and power.

Asked about the impression that the party's current approach was directionless, he countered by saying that there are minor rifts in all political parties and that the PTI was not alone in suffering such a scenario.

When contacted, PTI's main legal advisor, Shoaib Shaheen, dispelled the notion, stating that all the major decisions are finalised with the direction set by the party's leadership.

"The impression of dominance by some new faces is not hundred percent true," he told The Friday Times, quoting the example of Omar Ayub being nominated as the leader of the opposition in the national assembly, who has been with the party for a while. He said the party is facing a hard time with its main leadership still in prison, so it will take some time for its secondary leadership to find its true shape.

To a question about appointing the leader of the opposition, he said that National Assembly Speaker Ayaz Sadiq should not delay the matter. "It can be considered as ill-intent to delay the matter.

Earlier, some internal rifts were reported from within the ranks of PTI leaders over the distribution of tickets with accusations that tickets had been sold for millions rather than recognised merit.

Former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa finance and health minister and PTI member Taimur Khan Jhagra had objected to granting a ticket to Sher Afzal Marwat to contest the February 8 polls from Peshawar. He had argued that a PTI member from Peshawar out to contest the polls from the relevant constituency. He had also pointed to some of Marwat's controversial statements in the media among his arguments for not  granting Marwat the ticket. In the end, however, Marwat was granted a ticket and he was elected.