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Wednesday Jan 15 2020
Web Desk

How democratic are Pakistan’s political parties?

Web Desk
Political parties are incubators of democratic practices

Political parties are incubators of democratic practices. They are essential to accountability and the smooth running of a representative system.

Individual members of a political party are expected to ensure that a wide range of voters’ opinions are expressed for the public good. But, in Pakistan, the torchbearers of democracy often quell dissenting voices.

Rather than bottom-up, decisions are made top-down. “If parties become subservient to one or a few individuals and decisions on behalf of the party are taken in an un-democratic manner, without involving the decision-making structures within the party,” notes the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), in its recent report titled ‘Monitor’, “the democratic system of the country becomes hostage to a few individuals.”

It further adds that democracy without democratic political parties “leads to an autocratic system under a democratic guise.”

For its findings, PILDAT monitored the internal workings of all major political parties, between the period of August 2018 to August 2019, to determine if these democracy-espousing political groups actually believe in democracy?

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)

The PTI formed government in the Center and two provinces of Pakistan in August 2018. Since becoming the country’s biggest vote-getter, the party revised its constitution on May 2019.

One of the key features of the party’s new rulebook was a sunset clause, notes PILDAT, under which the party can continue to function until new internal polls are held. The sunset clause outlined that after the adoption of the amended constitution, the first party elections shall be held not later than 18 months. However, it leaves it at the discretion of the chairman of PTI, therefore Imran Khan, to postponed the election if required. (As per the Election Act 2017, a political party must hold internal elections within a period of five years).

In April 2019, the PTI dissolved all its administrative and organisational bodies to make new appointments. Soon after, four meetings of the party’s central executive committee were held, one in May and July and two in November. However, rather than focusing on internal party matters, the executive committee instead choose to largely discuss the anti-government march camped in Islamabad, the foreign funding case against the PTI and the army chief’s extension.

Separately, the party took umbrage at the nonconforming remarks of a senior leader. The membership of Hamid Khan, one of the founding members of the PTI, was suspended in December, on grounds of defaming and maligning the party. Earlier, the additional secretary general of PTI, Dr. Abol Hasan resigned over reservations on reintroduction of the old regional structure of the party, according to PILAT’s report.

Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)

In a major shakeup, the PML-N made new appointments within the party on May 2019. Shehbaz Sharif, the president of the PML-N, named Shahid Khaqan Abbasi as the senior vice president and Maryam Nawaz Sharif, daughter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, was selected as one of the 16 vice presidents. “This is the first time that Maryam Nawaz had been given a party office,” notes PILDAT.

For the rest of the year, the PML-N’s parliamentary committee met frequently, usually before every national assembly session, to discuss a wide range of political issues, such as the anti-government march of the opposition party JUI-F and the army act.

In 2018, however, the PML-N suspended the party membership of former lawmaker Rana Mashood, for his controversial remarks regarding a state institution. Later, more internal differences emerged, as 15 members of the Punjab assembly (MPAs), affiliated with the PML-N, met Prime Minister Imran Khan.

“To resolve this issue, the PML-N set up a disciplinary committee to listen to grievances of the disgruntled lawmakers,” writes PILDAT. Majority were from South Punjab, who told shortly after meeting with the prime minister that their own party leadership was unavailable and hence to get the issues of their constituencies resolved they have to approach the government.

Pakistan People’s Party

In 2019, the central executive committee of the PPP met four times to discuss the anti-government march, India revoking Kashmir’s special status and the federal budget.

Meanwhile, meetings of the parliamentary committee of the PPP are regularly held before a session of the national assembly.

In March 2018, Farhatullah Babar was removed as the spokesperson of Asif Ali Zardari, the former president and co-chairperson of the PPP, for his remarks about state institutions in the Senate. However, he continued his role as the secretary general of the PPP-Parliamentarians.

While most decisions were seen to be taken by the party’s central leadership, Babar recently told a gathering in Lahore that internal party elections within the PPP were not representative and party seats were earned with only a few votes.