Saturday Apr 23 2022

PTI has lost its way: Here's how it can return to its roots

Former prime minister Imran Khan and PTI chairman Imran Khan addressing a public gathering in Peshawar on April 13, 2022. — Instagram/@imrankhan.pti
Former prime minister Imran Khan and PTI chairman Imran Khan addressing a public gathering in Peshawar on April 13, 2022. — Instagram/@imrankhan.pti

Self-accountability and on-ground mobilisation of volunteers and workers will be key to the PTI’s preparations for the next general elections. The two are intrinsically linked.

Effective mobilisation will require motivated volunteers dedicating extended periods of personal time for fundraising and door-to-door campaigning. 

Prior to the PTI forming government in the Centre, volunteers were motivated to make personal sacrifices on the promise of a Naya Pakistan alone. This time, however, demonstration of genuine introspection and self-accountability by party leadership will be the currency that will motivate. The party’s workers are looking for genuine changes before making further personal sacrifices for it.

Towards this end, the PTI’s leadership needs to begin providing answers to a host of questions. Some of the key questions featured in PTI circles are provided here. Answers to these will also be crucial in equipping volunteers and election candidates with responses when inevitably met with the same questions on the campaign trail.

Poor selection of candidates: In light of the mass defections of electables from the party dealing a hammer blow to the PTI’s government, what weaknesses have been identified in the ticket-awarding process and what changes will be made to ensure there is no repeat of tickets being awarded to opportunistic selectable? 

Imran’s recent statements that he’ll personally scrutinise the awarding of all tickets is no comfort given his track record of having previously sidelined old party loyalists in favour of elites and self-serving opportunists.

Imran has also mentioned awarding tickets to ‘ideological workers’; what is the definition of ideological workers? Are people like Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Fawad Chaudhry and Parvaiz Khattak who belonged to other parties and parachuted into the PTI when the party’s star was rising considered ‘ideological workers’? How are they different from the likes of Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan?

Selection of ill-suited ministers: What was the selection criteria used to choose the heads of various ministries, especially the highly specialised and nationally crucial ministries? 

For example, on what basis was Faisal Vawda deemed competent to run the Ministry of Water Resources? Similarly, what was the basis for selecting Zartaj Gul for the Ministry of Climate Change? On what basis were Fawad Chaudhry and later Shibli Faraz — the party’s media men — deemed competent to run the Ministry of Science and Technology? What changes will be made to ensure the selection of competent personnel for these and all other ministerial positions moving forward?

Selection of Usman Buzdar: What selection criteria was used to select Buzdar as chief minister of Punjab? What are the weaknesses in those criteria and procedures and what changes will be made to these to ensure competent party personnel are chosen moving forward? Who is the party’s preferred candidate to become CM Punjab if re-elected in the province? How is he/she being prepared for the role?

Lack of preparation on the economic front: In the lead up to the 2018 elections, if there was one cabinet position that was always clear, it was that Asad Umar would be the PTI’s finance minister whenever the party formed a federal government. Yet, what became clear in the first few weeks of Asad’s short-lived tenure as finance minister was that he hadn’t done any preparation for the role. 

Why did Asad not adequately prepare for the most vital role in the cabinet? Does the PTI intend on developing an economic plan in preparation for the next elections? Who is the party’s next finance minister and is he/she preparing for the role? Does the PTI have nominated personnel who will be cabinet members in a future government — a shadow cabinet — and are they preparing for these positions?

Delaying local bodies elections: Why were local bodies elections — a pillar of the PTI’s manifesto related to grassroots democratisation — delayed to the point that courts had to intervene to have them conducted? Who was behind delaying these? Does the party commit to holding local bodies' elections on time if voted for another term?

CMs’ and ministers’ performance evaluation: The PTI government introduced Performance Agreements for the assessment of ministers’ performance. 

Certificates were awarded to the top ten performing ministers. Will the poorest performing ministers be handed ministries again? Similar to the ministerial performance agreements, was there a system set up to monitor the performance of the different CMs? Can the party leadership commit to ensuring the process of performance assessment will be kept in place and expanded if returned to power?

PM’s performance evaluation: Similar to the above, is there any system in the party that measures the PM’s performance? If yes, how did the PM fare over the last 3.5 years? If not, can the party commit that the PM’s performance will also similarly be evaluated and provide the criteria he/she will be assessed against and what body in the party will carry out the assessment?

Succession planning: The party needs to think ahead about future leaders who can take on the dynastic offsprings of the status-quo parties. What is the after-Imran plan for the PTI? When does Imran plan to step down from the position of chairman and give other ideological workers a chance to take the reins of the party? Is there a plan for electing Imran’s successor and when will this plan be executed?

Funding and donations: The present foreign-funding case being heard by the ECP against the party was brought about by a founding member of the party. The party has also recently dissociated itself from 11 bank accounts belonging to senior leadership. 

There have also been reports of funds ostensibly collected for Shaukat Khanum being siphoned into the PTI’s purse. When in government, the party dragged the case instead of providing all the information proving its innocence. Surely something’s not right and it will come out into the open sooner rather than later. Can the party just come clean for the sake of its own supporters and work on improving its systems? Admitting mistakes and fixing shortcomings will only make the party’s fundraising process stronger.

Supporters of the PTI must press the party leadership to provide responses to these questions. Political parties improve with the maturing of their supporters. The sophisticated Insafians must ask critical questions and demand answers, rather than opting for blind allegiance. This will strengthen the party.

In addition, supporters need to think beyond jalsas and begin spending time mobilizing. Even a few hours a week goes a long way. As a first step, begin visiting your nearest PTI office and finding out about campaigning activities. Key ingredients for successful campaigning are setting up social media accounts for your local area; door to door campaigning; organizing local rallies and events; and, signing up to be a polling agent on Election Day.

While there is no knowing if the present lot of party leaders have the desire to hold themselves accountable, improve party systems and bring them back to their original ideological foundations, one thing is certain; they will need to be replaced soon.

By getting involved in campaigning, supporters will experience political mobilisation, teamwork and fundraising at the grassroots level.

From among this lot of party supporters — from the lower and middle-class rungs of society — will one day emerge replacements, of better calibre, to replace the present set of PTI leaders. They will bring the party back to its ideological roots and challenge the feudal and dynastic politics of the status-quo parties.

Therefore, PTI supporters need to rally, not for Imran, but for their own political stake in the party and the country.

The writer is a former PTI vice-president of a union council in Rawalpindi. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @znafridi

Originally published in The News