LAHORE: Like most political parties, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) has also encountered desertions and unfaithfulness from its once-trusted lieutenants in testing times on multiple occasions in recent years.
Pakistan’s turbulent political history is littered with precedents where people opted to jump off sinking ships sailing against the tide.
For example, in April 2018, PTI Chief Imran Khan had announced that his party would issue show-cause notices to 20 lawmakers accused of being involved in horse trading during the Senate elections and named them.
These lawmakers included Nargis Ali, Deena Naz, Fauzia Bibi, Naseem Hayat, Nagina Khan, Sardar Idrees, Ubaid, Zahid Durrani, Abdul Haq, Qurban Khan, Wajeehuz Zaman, Amjad Afridi, Babar Saleem, Arif Yousaf, Yaseen Khalil, Javed Naseem, Faisal Zaman, Samiullah, and two others.
In May 2018, the PTI had consequently expelled the party’s 13 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa MPAs over allegations of horse-trading in Senate elections.
According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister’s spokesman at the time, Shaukat Yousafzai, as many as 20 party MPAs were facing allegations of selling their votes in Senate elections. He had said that show-cause notices had been issued to all concerned to complete the investigation.
On March 19, 2022, or just 22 days before its ouster, the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf had served show-cause notices on at least 14 dissident members of the National Assembly for walking against the party line.
Signed by Secretary-General Asad Umar, the show-cause notices had sought clarification from the dissident members.
The “rebels” were asked to apologise and return to the party fold unconditionally within seven days, or else legal action would be initiated against them.
The notices were issued to the following MNAs: Noor Alam Khan, Dr. Muhammad Afzal Khan Dhandla, Nawab Sher, Raja Riaz Ahmed, Ahmed Hussain Dehar, Rana Muhammad Qasim Noon, Muhammad Abdul Ghafar Wattoo, and Makhdoom Zada Syed Basit Sultan, Aamir Talal Gopang, Khawaja Sheraz Mehmood, Sardar Riaz Mehmood Mazari, Wajiha Qamar, Nuzhat Pathan, and Ramesh Kumar.
The notices mentioned that the interviews given to the media outlets by the aforementioned members showed that they had left PTI and, therefore, they were directed to present themselves before the party chairman on or before 2 p.m. on March 26, 2022.
On October 26, 2022, following Faisal Vawda’s claims that the PTI was undertaking a long march marred with “bloodshed, death, and funerals,” Sindh President Ali Zaidi had issued him a show-cause notice, telling him (Vawda) that he had grossly violated discipline by making statements against party policies and guidelines.
Zaidi said that until Vawda’s response, his party membership would remain suspended and that he would not be allowed to hold any party office or represent the party in the media.
On January 23, 2023, the Pakistan Tehree Insaf had issued show-cause notices to its two members (Momina Waheed and Faisal Farooq Cheema), who were absent during Punjab Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi’s vote of confidence in the provincial legislature.
As far as the PMLN is concerned, it had issued show-cause notices on April 8, 2023, to Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan, Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, Arbab Khizar Hayat, Farid Mufakir Khan, and Esal Khan for violating party discipline.
The Pakistan People’s Party also features in this list of parties taking action against defectors.
In April 2023, Pakistan People’s Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had removed Sardar Latif Khosa as president of People’s Lawyer Forum for his interviews, where he had criticised the PDM government, especially the PMLN, on judicial matters.
In November 2022, PPP’s Mustafa Nawaz Khokar had formally resigned as a senator after his party had expressed displeasure and unhappiness over his “political positions” and views.
In August 2019, after a multi-party opposition alliance had unsuccessfully tried to de-seat the sitting Senate Chairman, Sadiq Sanjrani, through the ballot, both the PPP and PM-N were taken aback by the sudden change in their members’ loyalties, dubbing it as political log-rolling.
While the dejected opposition, led by the PMLN and the PPP, claimed horse-trading was the order of the day, the treasury benches asserted with a lot of conviction that a few of their political foes had voted for them or against the agendas of their respective political parties in the ‘larger national interest,’ reacting to the voice of their conscience!
Not long ago, PMLQ Chief Ch. Shujaat Hussain had also sent a show-cause notice to Ch. Parvez Elahi over his comments regarding the party’s possible merger with the PTI.
As far as political decamping is concerned, a lot of key Pakistani politicians had defected during the mid-1950s from the Muslim League to form the Republican Party, perhaps the first King’s party in the country’s political history.
Within years, some members of the newly formed Republican Party had opted to defect and re-join the Muslim League, which was divided into various groups.
The intra-Muslim League divisions had then led to the formal formation of two separate political parties, namely the Muslim League (Council) and Muslim League (Convention), during the military regime of General Ayub Khan, who, with the help of certain politicians, had managed to become the president of the Muslim League (Council).
However, the phenomenon of political defection was not restricted to the Muslim Leagues or the Republican Party. A good number of politicians belonging to other political parties had also left their parties to side with powerful quarters.
By the late 1960s, when Ayub Khan was cornered by his loyalists, some of his supporters, including Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, had established the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which ruled the country till the late 1970s. Then General Zia came and banned all the political parties, as Ayub had also done.
Many PPP members had sided with the Zia regime. The primary motive behind these defections, of course, was political opportunism, since the PPP had lost power and was facing the rage of the military regime.
In the post-Zia period, especially in the 1990s, deceptions, desertions, and defections continued during the intense tug-of-war between the PPP and the PMLN. Large-scale defections were witnessed during General Pervez Musharraf’s regime.
When Benazir came into power in 1988, she intentionally replaced all her “uncles” and dissenters with younger and more obedient ones to consolidate her grip on the party founded by her father.
A significant section of the PMLN had changed sides just before the 2002 general elections to form the PMLQ, another king’s party. Similarly, a good chunk had deserted the PPP to form the PPP Patriots.
In the post-Musharraf period, the PPP (Parliamentarians) and the PMLN had endeavoured to curb defections, and the 18th Amendment (2010) to the 1973 Constitution had added strict legal repercussions for defectors, but to no avail.
On August 15, 2017, a reputed American think tank, the Brookings Institute had stated: “As with most modern nations, the story of Pakistan’s inception has dictated the very specific course of its politics. The two elements that characterise Pakistani politics today — the dominance of its military and the weakness of its major parties — can be traced back to the nature of its partition from India.”
Jumping ship from one party to another has been encouraged by none other than the country’s leading political leaders themselves, ably assisted by some ‘hidden’ or ‘more powerful’ hands. Honestly speaking, the country’s laws encourage this practice, and horse-trading and turncoats are accepted as norms.
For example, just to point out one grey area; when the Election Commission of Pakistan notifies the newly-elected members of the federal and provincial assemblies, the independent candidates are given a time limit to side with a certain political party.
And that is how some governments have been formed in this part of the world, as political entities enjoying just a small victory margin over their rivals are normally given a chance to rule, courtesy of these independent candidates and support from political entities with just a few seats in their bag. And, we all know how it happens.
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