Easy come, easy go

The PTI is down but not out


The Pakistan Tehrik Insaf suffered badly because of the May 9 attacks, and the last week saw a bleeding that seems to have come to an end more because there is really no one of prominence left than because there is any turning of the tide.

At one level, the damage is not as bad as it seems. After all, the party’s main vote-getter, Imran Khan remains. However, those who have left are not negligible. It should not be forgotten that the PTI, according to its critics, was cobbled together by the agencies ny injecting electables. According to this belief, in the words of the Bible, “What the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.”

However, there are two dimensions to this.

A electables were given to the PTI, and eagerly accepted, because they were useful. When it is said someone is an electable, it means that that person has the ability to contest an election. He has an election-contesting machine, has built up or inherited the contacts that will allow him or her to contest. A party ticket is going to deliver the party vote to that individual. That is in addition to the votes that person is likely to obtain because of his other connections.

It should be noted that the only attempt made to break this localism has been by the parties in the UK, where candidates very often come from outside the constituency (though if adopted usually buy a house or flat there), though adopted by the local constituency association. The USA, where party candidacy is determined by primaries, and campaign funds are individually raised. It is no wonder that parties are not as strong as in the UK. The main means of control US parties have is through their national committees, which have large funds at their disposal which they can dole out to candidates.

The PTI could not offer a machine, or money. All it could offer were the votes its candidates would get because they were Imran’s candidates. That might be enough for someone who has both a machine and a source of funding, but for someone who does not, a party ticket can be a poisoned chalice.

These electables are particularly vulnerable to being swayed by the establishment. They have the machine, even the money, but the delivery of party votes will be welcome. That can only  be done by the establishment. Incidentally, that party will probably form the next government, means the humble MNA will be revealed in the full glory of a parliamentary secretary. No one turns up his nose at free fuel in these days of inflation.

When it became increasingly clear, as it did after May 9, that the PTI would be opposed by the establishment in any subsequent election, it no longer made good sense to remain in the PTI. The only party which formed a government despite establishment opposition was the PPP in 1988. However, that government was not allowed stability, and the next time the PP came to power, it had made its compromises with the establishment. However, it had never gone as far as the PTI, as its workers had never attacked military installations, nor had its leader accused the sitting COAS of anything.

The May 9 attacks and their aftermath demand much soul-searching from all those involved, whether attackers or attacked. Unfortunately, that has not happened, which is why there was such a stream of departures from the PTI.

Yet the PPP is a sign that the PTI can learn from. Imran was merely arrested, the PPP’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged. Then Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. PPP supporters did not target the military, or anyone. It did see a trickle of departures after Nutto’s ouster, but not on the scale that the PTI has suffered. Indeed, when the PML(N) was ousted by the Musharraf Martial Law, it did see many departures to the PML(Q), which was then bolstered by the PPP MNAs who became Patriots.

A new theme is being sounded this time, that of leaving politics. Previously, politicians left the party they were in by joining a new party. Now, it seems, they will sit out the next election. That might not be absolute. For example, it is difficult to see Ch Fawad Hussain sitting out an election, such are the pressures in his constituency. On the other hand, Shireen Mazari did not have to cultivate a constituency, having been twice elected on a reserved woman’s seat, and thus can easily put aside political activity.

One of the problems the PTI faced was its lack of any defining ideology beyond electing Imran Khan PM. It cannot be said that either of the other mainstream parties has a clear ideology, but still the PML(N) has a sort of bent towards the right, the PPP towards the left. The PTI, if anything, is against corruption. It has also been relying on national and religious symbols.

Its problem has thus been how to direct the anger of its workers against the Army, which has become the symbol of nationalism. That was done by a concentrated campaign against the new COAS.

Civilian governments have had their problems with the military, but none has ever gone so far. The establishment reaction has been strong, and seems to have convinced those politicians who went into the PTI that they should get off the bandwagon. Imran apparently made the mistake of assuming that electables were gifts; they weren’t, they were only loans.

Those who have left the PTI now need a new political destination. That is likely to be provided by the political outfit that Jahangir Tareen is busy setting up. He has been long associated with the intelligence agencies, from the time he was CM’s adviser to Mian Shehbaz Sharif even before the Musharraf Martial Law, and then replicated that role under it.

There is also the Pakistan Markazi Muslim League, which has been around for a few years, but because it is seen as the political wing of the Ja,aatude Dawa, it has a limited sectarian appeal, just as the Tehrik Labbaik Pakistan.

Of course, the PTI has not come to an end. After all, Imran is still there. However, he now has a problem getting winning candidates. While his nominees will get the vote of his fans, where are they supposed to get machines and money? Electables will already have scurried (or perhaps waddled) over to parties with a better chance of winning, and of delivering votes.

One sign that Imran might find helpful is that his base has not been repelled. Where the leadership has been deserting him, there is no sign that the electorate has been similarly repelled. This has two implications. One is that he will find candidates. That is because constituencies contain more than one electable, and if the best party gives the ticket to one electable, a rival electable will get the other party’s ticket. The other implication is that having attacked military installations is not the electoral kiss of death it should be. True, the wholesale departures from the party mean that arresting Imran may mean that Imran’s arrest will not provoke the same sort of reaction, because the people to carry out the protests will lack leaders.

That has implications not pleasant for the establishment: attacks on it have a certain acceptability. The establishment will have to depend on fear to establish respect, not the popular adulation that it expects.

The May 9 attacks and their aftermath demand much soul-searching from all those involved, whether attackers or attacked. Unfortunately, that has not happened, which is why there was such a stream of departures from the PTI.

Previous article
Next article

Must Read

PML-N, PPP agree to filing review against SC verdict, further consultation...

Leaders of both parties discuss administrative matters in Punjab, current political situation Decide to meet again after consulting their leadership to finalise respective...