Upon deciding to hold intra-party elections at a meeting of the party’s central committee chaired by Imran Khan himself, PTI’s internal mechanisms have transformed drastically from the last intra-party elections held on March 23, 2013. PTI’s intra-party elections asked 2.7 million registered voters to make a choice between Imran Khan or Naik Muhammad Khan. The Insaf Panel is led by Imran Khan and the Ehtesab Panel is led by Naik Muhammad Khan. Registered voters have been given a choice between the two panels.
Under the party’s manifesto the tenure of intra-party elections was fixed for four years but the decision to conduct elections this time around came as a response to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s decision to not allot party its election symbol due to the party’s failure in holding intra-party elections as per sections 11 and 12 of the Political Parties Order (PPO) 2002. The party’s constitution was redrafted for this purpose. While the clause exists on paper, political parties in Pakistan seldom follow transparency in electing their leadership, as the more influential political parties have dynastic attachments which renders democratic processes redundant or in some cases completely irrelevant.
Yet these intra-party elections are being hailed as a ‘dummy exercise’ that is merely meant an eyewash as voters cannot elect any candidate in the individual capacity as they will have to pick the entire panel. As the party has conducted these elections in a hurry, the say of the voters is minimized. In addition, PTI members who are currently calling the shots are included in Imran Khan’s panel and includes the likes of Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jahangir Khan Tareen, Dr, Arif Alvi, and Abdul Aleem Khan.
Interestingly, a group of dissidents from PTI headed by former vice president Akbar Babar described the intra-party elections as ‘illegal’ and a ‘high level drama’. According to him, these elections have no legal, political, or moral sanctity and qualify on merit as the ‘mother of all rigged elections’, even according to Pakistani standard. The elections are in clear violation of the party’s constitution (which has been changed) and is reflective of PTI’s engagement with the national seat.
To start with, PTI is perhaps the only party after Jamaat I Islami that elects its office bearers and has voting mechanisms in place. With new technology and millions of registered voters it has gradually changed the country’s electoral dynamics within and outside its party. Yet internal squabbles, half hearted political movements, and an influx of old politicians into its ranks has left it bereft of its earlier support and devotion. In fact, repeatedly the party has come under severe criticism for employing the ‘old’ tried and tested faces to bring ‘new’ change in Pakistan. PTI’s initial vision for Pakistan has now been replaced with a ‘whatever works’ policy. But while the party has maintained its critical stance in the face of a system run by a series of corrupt governments, its own stint at handling power and responsibility has not been fruitful.
Moreover with a year left for Pakistan’s general elections, the PTI chief does not want internal differences and in fighting to surface in any way, especially before the party can establish its political footing. A new election season will also mean the party will have to rally behind fresh issues plaguing our democracy, society, and economy. But according to many past PTI supporters, due to the influx of old politicians, and Imran Khan’s near obsession with the Sharif family- the party seems more like a launching pad for a tier of disillusioned class that has little interest in bringing positive change in the country and are more interested in either amassing power, wealth, or privileges.
While it is no surprise that Imran Khan was able to secure his chairmanship of the party after these last intra-elections, the party has a long way to go till the general elections. This time frame of a year that PTI and other political parties have should be rightly used to not only define new parameters for future political engagement, but should also be used to keep the party platforms free from controversy. Where Imran Khan and his party do not discriminate as to who can become part of the PTI movement, he should also give room to internal criticism and dissent. After all democracies work like that- a supporting majority and a dissenting minority.