Internal politics

By Editorial Board
December 03, 2023

The PTI has a new party chairman: Barrister Gohar Ali Khan. Nominated by former PTI chairman Imran Khan to contest for the top slot in the party’s internal polls, Gohar was elected unopposed in the intra-party election held yesterday.

Omar Ayub Khan has been elected the party central general secretary while Ali Amin Gandapur and Dr Yasmin Rashid were chosen as the party’s provincial presidents in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, respectively.

Barrister Gohar Ali Khan speaks to the media after being elected PTI Chairman unopposed on Dec 2, 2023. —Screenshot of a YouTube video from a private news channel.

The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had recently ordered the PTI to conduct intra-party elections within 20 days in order to retain the ‘bat’ as its election symbol and the party went ahead and held the polls on Saturday. The reasoning behind going for the intra-party polls soon after the ECP’s ultimatum was that the PTI did not want to give any excuse to the electoral body to not just withhold its election symbol but also stop it from contesting elections or making things difficult for the party before the upcoming general elections. However, it seems that something that is usually done along the same lines in most political parties of Pakistan may not turn out to be as simple and smooth for the PTI.

Enter PTI founding leader Akbar S Babar, who is ready to challenge these polls in view of what he calls are "irregularities in the PTI intra-party elections”. Babar has claimed that founding members were not even allowed to contest the intra-party poll. And he is not alone in his criticism. Some independent analysts have also said that the PTI’s intra-party elections were not ‘conducted well’ and that such hasty elections are not favourable for the party. The objections raised regarding Saturday’s intra-party polls include lack of a voters list and not allowing Akbar S Babar to compete, which critics say make these polls controversial. Expectedly, the PPP and PML-N have also declared these intra-party elections a sham, with the PPP asking the ECP to take notice of the elections and the PML-N dubbing them as rigged.

That said, the other parties being self-righteous about the PTI’s internal politics may be a case of pots and kettles thinking they are different. Parties like the PML-N and the PPP have had internal elections on the same lines. Their chairpersons too are elected virtually unopposed since these parties give the top position to their own family members. There is no transparency or ‘democracy’ when these elections are held. There is a justified perception that just because the PTI is in ‘trouble’ these days, the ECP has taken a special interest in its intra-party polls while turning a blind eye to how such elections are held in other political parties. Some political analysts say that, apart from the Jamaat-e-Islami, not many parties hold transparent, free and fair intra-party polls. As for the PTI, the party did make things difficult for itself by holding these polls in such haste and after the ECP’s pressure – instead of when they were actually due. Per many, the party could still face censure in some form or the other. In the next few days, we will see more developments regarding Akbar S Babar’s plan of action. Some analysts say the PTI may take this matter to court if more hurdles are created by the ECP in the upcoming days. But there is equal likelihood that Babar too takes this to the court. What is clear though is that when the times are bad for a political leader or a political party, pretty much nothing goes in its favour. The lesson should be to not celebrate when your opponents are in trouble, in a country where a hybrid democratic system is being lathered, rinsed and repeated. For the sake of democracy, we had urged through the year that all political parties agree to put up a united front for the people, for governance, and for a democratic future. Instead, what we got was even more ceding of civilian space, more persecution of opponents, and more of the race to be the ‘selected’.