One phase of the ‘minus-one’ formula seems to have been implemented, with Imran Khan, for the first time since the founding of his party way back in 1996, no longer its chairman. However, it has not been handed over to someone who would implement the rest of the formula, and ensure that the party remained in hands which could be depended upon to remain on the same page. However, the elections saw the re-election of Omar Ayub Khan as Secretary General, but there was no mention of Vice-Chairman Shah Mahmood Queshi or President Pervez Elahi, who had both long been supposed to be ready to replace Khan as more cooperative heads of the PTI. That would have been the second phase: the PTI going into the hands of someone more likely to cooperate.
However, the new Chairman, Gohar Ali Khan, is a loyalist. He is apparently not wanted in any of the April 9 cases, which gives him a major advantage in today’s PTI: freedom. It means that he will be able to issue tickets to candidates once they are decided. The Chairman or president and secretary general of all parties are duly authorized to issue tickets. If Imran had remained Chairman, he would probably not have been able to issue tickets as he is in jail, and could be assumed to be when the last date of issuing tickets, sometime in January, rolled around. There was also the risk of his being disqualified upon conviction as chairman, leaving the Secretary general to do the honours.
There is a problem there, as the Secretary General too has got legal difficulties because of the June 9 incidents. He is underground, his only recent public appearance being at the funeral of his father, Gohar Ayub, the former National Assembly Speaker and Foreign Minister, who passed away recently. By the time tissues would be issued, he would either still be on the run, or have been arrested, and thus behind bars. In either case, he would be useless for candidates seeking to be allocated the PTI’s symbol.
Therefore, Imran’s utility to his party was not limited to his campaigning abilities, but also to his issuing tickets. Having a Chairman who can issue tickets is no mean thing. However, the implications of having even senior officebearers underground, on trial, or generally in trouble withe law, are serious. They and the other natural ticket-holders of the party may not be able to file their nomination papers, let alone collect their party tickets. Even if they get past these stages by proxy (none involve a personal appearance, whatever the traditions are), their legal problems would prevent them campaigning properly.
While the PTI depends heavily on Imran for its electoral appeal, its candidates in 2018 did not attempt to follow the sit-at-home strategy that it seems ready to rely on. It is banking on its having been forgiven all its past sins and shortcomings in office, the allegations of corruption which have emerged, and the incidents of May 9. It is betting that it can turn Imran’s imprisonment, and the legal troubles faced by party stalwarts, into an anti-establishment narrative that will allow it to sweep to power.
The PTI has only now come to the scene, and has to deal with what in what in a very different context is called a decapitation strike, one which removes the head oa party. Of course, legalists would argue that a more apt metaphor would be shooting oneself in the foot, as it did on June 9. Whatever the case, the PTI is scrambling to survive. That Imran seems to have done, for even though someone else is had of the PTI, he remains in control.
Lawyers seem ready to provide the personnel needed. Lawyers have always been over-represented in politics worldwide. One reason is that politics is about legislating. Who else but lawyers have the interest and even understanding? However, apart from the natural interest of lawyers in what constitutes the law, and their interest in shaping it as legislators, there is another inherent advantage they have.
That is relatively easy access to an accused, even more than family. While family visits may be limited, lawyers have virtually unlimited access, especially of an under-trial prisoner. In the case of a political leader, this means almost unrestricted facetime, which would otherwise not be available even to senior leadership figures. That does mean that Imran will be under the influence of members of his party who do not have any sort of mandate from the rest of the party. This is the same as other parties, it could be said, where the last person to talk to the leader determines the party’s agenda, but the PTI has claimed as one of its selling points, that it was a different sort of party.
One of the problems that Gohar will face is that of miscommunication. He will find that those who somehow do not like his appointment, like fellow lawyers or members of Imran’s family, will suddenly find him worthy of discussion. It depends on how much power he has. He is likely to have more power than less, or at least that is what he should have.
There are actually three precedents, two with the PML(N) and one for the PPP. To avoid disqualification for the 2008 election, the PML(N) made Makhdoom Javed Hashmi its President, and the PPP made Makhdum Amin Fahim its Chairman. Makhdum Amin Fahim was even forgiven the massive ‘Patriot’ desertion, which allowed the PML(Q) to form the government, and even held the post of Deputy PM in the Yousaf Reza Gilani (a post which Ch Pervez also held when the PML(Q) joined the coalition), He is now deceased, but remained in the PPP until the last.
Makhdum Javed Hashmi had a less straight path. While he held the Presidentship of the PML(N) from 2002 to 2005, he moved to the PTI in 2012, where he became its President, but left in 2014, during the famous dharna. He has now returned to the PML(N).
The other PML(N) precedent is ongoing, that of Mian Shehbaz Sharif, who has been PML(N) President since 2018, when he assumed office in time for the elections. Here Mian Nawaz chose a relative, just as in the Musharraf era Begum Kulsoom Nawaz headed the party too, thus showing a switch from family member to non-family member, and back to family member.
Imran has jumped the initial reliance on family, though that may have been because whether he chose his wife or one of his sisters, the other would have found the choice unacceptable. He may also have taken a lesson from the Sharifs, where though Shehbaz has been President for some time, daughter Maryam has been made Senior Vice-President and Chief Organizer. Would Imran have had to balance a sister as Chairman with the wife as President or Vice-Chairman? The best solution, of leaving well alone, was what he chose.
Parties turn to someone other than their founder at a time of crisis. Perhaps only Nawab Saleemullah Khan of Dacca, who passed in 1915 after he was the first President of the All- india Muslim League in 1906, did not cause a crisis by dying. As the oldest party, the Muslim League has the longest history of transitions. From the Council-Convention split over Yub Khan, to Mumtaz Daulatana ringing down the curtain on the Council by accepting the London Embassy from the PPP government, to the grand unification under the previous Pir Pagaro, it has been a history of convulsions.
The PTI has only now come to the scene, and has to deal with what in what in a very different context is called a decapitation strike, one which removes the head of party. Of course, legalists would argue that a more apt metaphor would be shooting oneself in the foot, as it did on June 9. Whatever the case, the PTI is scrambling to survive. That Imran seems to have done, for even though someone else is had of the PTI, he remains in control.