Parties, polls and power

By Editorial Board
December 01, 2023

Ever since the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) ordered the PTI to conduct intra-party elections in order to retain the ‘bat’ as its election symbol, speculations were rife on whether the former ruling party would hold the internal polls or challenge the ECP’s orders in court, and whether PTI Chairman Imran Khan would contest the intra-party polls elections or give up his chairmanship to someone else.

At stake was the very real fear within the party that delaying the intra-party polls could lead to the party not just losing its election symbol but even risk being delisted before the upcoming general elections.

Some political analysts had warned that the PTI should hold intra-party elections without any delay because – given the political climate – not doing so could lead to grave repercussions for a party that is already in trouble legally. So there was little surprise that the PTI had decided to hold its intra-party elections tomorrow (December 2).

A woman casts her vote during the general election at a polling station in Islamabad. — AFP/File

However, what did come as a surprise was that Imran Khan had hand-picked Barrister Gohar Khan, a member of the PTI’s legal team, for the top party position in his absence. The choice of nominee had been reported in this paper a day before the announcement, and there had been an idea generally as well that the PTI leader currently behind bars would likely opt for a non-political person who is not a political threat in any way. That said, it is a bit odd to not choose a stronger politician or even an old loyalist. Instead of handing over the temporary reins of his party to an old member of the PTI – out of those still with the party despite the ongoing dismantling project – Imran has chosen Gohar Khan, a relative newbie in the party.

It is also important to remember that none of what is happening is without context. Just before the 2018 Senate elections, the then CJ, Justice Saqib Nisar, had ruled that anyone who was disqualified under Articles 62 and 63 of the constitution could not become head of his/her party, a ruling that many legal experts and political observers had pointed out back then was specifically pointed at Nawaz Sharif. As a result, the decisions taken by Nawaz as party head were invalidated, which included the candidates he had nominated for the Senate election, who then had to contest as independents and not PML-N candidates, thereby weakening the PML-N in the Senate back then. Unfortunately, a decision that was celebrated then by Imran Khan and his party has now come to haunt him. As we have reminded many times in this space, the only constant in Pakistan’s political cycle is that it keeps repeating itself. We said so back in 2018 when Project Imran was being successfully put in place. We say it again today in 2023 when the ghost protocols of past projects still haunt the corridors and plays of power. Pakistan’s politicians would do well to remember that persecution boomerangs right back very swiftly and unironically.