Does Pakistan need a new political party? This is hardly the first time this question has been asked. Over the years, we have had a long wishlist from varying sectors – academics, activists, generals, judges – over what kind of politicians, politics and parties the country needs. From left-wing politics to dreams of technocratic ‘leaders’ to more populist answers, the list has been long and nearly impossible to achieve. The debate is back in the political arena, what with talk anew of another political party preparing to announce its presence on our political landscape. There is certainly no dearth of political parties in the country – though one can argue that we currently have three ‘mainstream’ parties, with a smattering of various smaller parties based on ethnicity or region or political ideology. In the mainstream, a void has been felt recently – possibly due to a general disdain that seeped into society regarding everything political, even despite the populism of, and popular support for, Imran Khan.
With the PTI unsure of its electoral future in the upcoming elections, the PML-N facing unpopularity in the one province it was a force to be reckoned with due to the PDM government’s economic policies, and the PPP essentially limited to Sindh, it can be argued that there is a vacuum in our politics at the moment. But a new political party is nothing that new for Pakistan. Only in the past few months, two new parties have been birthed from within the PTI. So it would not be unfounded scepticism to question just what a new political party would offer. The sceptics would argue that given the run of our other parties, why even wish for another status quo-ist entity? The answer to that can only be that in a democratic society, any attempt at mass political organizing may be the most effective and transparent way towards ensuring the implementation of constitutional rights. And that monopoly over power or a rat race between two or three political parties may not be the ideal situation for a pluralist society.
That said, there is enough history in Pakistan for there to be justifiable apprehensions regarding ‘new forces’ coming up. History tells us that a ‘third force’ party has almost always been used to bring mainstream parties down a peg or two. In some ways, the PTI had been seen as that in its earlier iterations as well. For there to be a solid new political option for the many who are tired of what they have to choose from right now, Pakistan’s current political, economic and social conditions offer a good lesson on what a party should and should not be. We have seen political parties being criticized for not being democratic enough when it comes to their internal working; we have heard of ‘cult politics’ in recent years with regard to the PTI; we have heard the term ‘dynastic politics’ consistently; and we have seen far too many ‘old-but-new’ politicians promise something new only to fall right back into traditional ways of politicking. For any new party, this is the challenge: how to offer a new social contract to the people of Pakistan. What will be its vision for a country where there is not just extreme political polarization but an acute economic crisis as well? Less political rhetoric and more robust plans that address the issues of interventionary politics, human rights, women’s rights, minorities rights, and most importantly Pakistani society’s slide into regressive thinking and intolerance. Any new political entity would also face the age-old challenge of not entering the race to be the blue-eyed favourite of those that call the shots in the country. And how also to dispel any notions that a new party is not in fact a convenient ‘third force’? Who fills this political void other than the three mainstream political parties is a question that can only be answered once there is a new party on the block, once we see its manifesto, and once we know if it has any real electoral prospects given that those who may be forming it are experienced politicians.