Political parties anything but democratic

Political parties anything but democratic


Political parties anything but democratic

By Mahmood Idrees

‘Practice what you preach’ is a basic principle that underpins the drive for positive change anyone wishes to bring in society. But the efforts bear no fruit when the ‘preacher’ is akin to whited sepulcher.

Come to think of it, all leading political parties in Pakistan call for strengthening democracy and often recount the ‘sacrifices’ they rendered for the purpose but they hardly believe in any democratic principle. The PML-N, the PTI, the PPP, the PML-Q and the ANP rule country’s political landscape and clamour for rule of law and the proverbial principled politics but none of them is generous enough to allow anyone from outside to assume a key position.

Back in the day, the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto established the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) with a promise of a curious mix of Islam, democracy and socialism but to date, no one outside his family has been promoted to the top post. Currently, the PPP is being steered by Z.A. Bhutto’s grandson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who succeeded his mother following her assassination. His rise overshadowed veteran politicians such as Aitzaz Ahsan, Raza Rabbani, Khurshid Shah, Sherry Rehman and Naveed Qamar amid silent opposition.

Recently, Maryam Nawaz, the daughter of three-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif, was found fittest to take the mantle of reorganising the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and appointed the third most powerful office-bearer in the party. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who heads the PML-N, issued a notification naming the 49-year-old niece as “chief organiser and senior vice president” of the party in a quick rise since she actively entered the political fray before the 2013 general election.

The development is not shocking for the political pundits who had predicted her as “future leader of the PML-N” when she rolled up her sleeves after her father was disqualified in July 2017 by the Supreme Court for being “dishonest”. At that time, the idea of inheriting office by Maryam triggered opposition from senior party leaders. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who was the interior minister then, voiced concern at ‘dynastic politics’. He is on record as having said: “Kids are kids and kids are apolitical. Maryam is a daughter, not political leader.”

For this, the party ignored senior leaders such as Khwaja Asif, Tanvir Hussain, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Ahsan Iqbal, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, Khwaja Saad Rafiq and Raja Zafarul Haq who could have the right stuff to lead the PML-N. All these seasoned politicians have now been placed under Maryam in the new hierarchy.

Her elevation has also reportedly led to rumbling discontent within the party as some leaders are said to have voiced concern, albeit in a covert way.

A leader, who wished he not be named, commented that the appointment would further strengthen “political dynasty" of the Sharif family. He complained that hardly any senior leader outside the House of Sharifs was consulted on her promotion.
Earlier, Hamza Shehbaz, the elder son of PM Shehbaz, was picked for the post of the chief minister of the province last year – a decision which riled many. Old-timers such as Khwaja Saad Rafique and Malik Ahmed Awan were ignored.

Elections make a fundamental contribution to democratic set-up at both levels – party and country – and erase impression of “family party”. But the PML-N appears non-serious about shedding the impression as it is attempting to evade the intra-party polls despite warnings by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).

Imran Khan portrays himself as a big opponent of dynastic politics but a close-up view uncovers the worrying side of the picture. He often talks about Riyasat-i-Madinah and quotes principles of Western democracy but never made serious attempts to introduce democracy within his party as he has been occupying the top position right from the word go. Now he is rumoured to be made party’s patron-in-chief.

In a recent hearing of the PML-N’s intra-party election case, the chief election commissioner remarked most party elections were a “joke” in Pakistan. The comment also applies to the PTI which shied away from genuine elections. It is a fact that the party does not have Imran Khan’s sons or other close family members on key positions but his struggle will not bear fruit if he does not aspire to grassroots democracy within the party.

Attempts are being made to introduce ‘dynastic politics’ in his party and Mr Khan seemingly is giving tranquil gaze to them. Last year, PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi found no one else but his daughter Mehr Bano Qureshi “most suitable” candidate for by-election when the NA-157 seat was vacated by his son Zain Qureshi.

But it did not sit well with a faction of the PTI, which went ballistic as it held a protest demonstration against it, alleging that Qureshi was promoting dynastic politics in the party. Amid all this episode, Imran Khan did not come forward to address the concerns. Interestingly, the “better candidate” could not retain the family seat in the by-election.

The case of relatively small parties is no different. Let’s take the instance of the Awami National Party (ANP) established by Abdul Wali Khan and now it is being steered by his son Asfandyar Wali Khan. Asfandyar’s son Aimal Wali Khan is the provincial president of the ANP and he is expected to hold central command of the party in the long run.

The Chaudhrys of Gujrat are considered a political force to reckon with and top offices are held within the family.
Before the hushed discontent over the “undemocratic” elevations proves a lull before storm, a strong introspection is needed by the political parties who claim to be champions of democracy in Pakistan.