Wednesday May 22, 2024

Pakistan’s history of political defections and desertions

By Sabir Shah
August 02, 2019

LAHORE: Whatever happened in the Upper House of the bicameral Pakistani parliament Thursday, when a multi-party Opposition alliance had unsuccessfully tried to de-seat the sitting Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani through ballot, is nothing new as the country has seen such defections, desertions, sudden changes in loyalties, political log-rolling and horse-trading many a time before in its turbulent political history dating back to 1947.

While the dejected Opposition, led by the PML-N and the PPP, claims horse-trading was the order of the day, the treasury benches assert 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!

Well, whatever the case was, a research undertaken by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network shows that with the murder of the first Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, the political rot had started in the country and the struggle for power had commenced, trampling all over norms, ethics and principles.

Then the second Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin was sent home by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad on April 17, 1953. Earlier, the first martial law was imposed in parts of the Punjab on March 8, 1953 during the anti-Qadiani movement.

In complete disregard to decent parliamentary practices, the cabinet was made to elevate the finance minister, Ghulam Mohammad, to the post of Governor General of Pakistan.

Nazimuddin knocked the doors of the Supreme Court where Justice Munir had to invent the doctrine of necessity to validate Ghulam Muhammad’s illegal act. Then came Muhammad Ali Bogra, who too was dismissed by Ghulam Muhammad in 1954 but later was again appointed as premier but he did not enjoy majority in the Constituent Assembly.

Therefore, Governor General Iskander Mirza dismissed his government in 1955. Ch Muhammad Ali succeeded in heading the government during 1955 but because of his conflict with President Iskander Mirza, he had to resign on September 12, 1956. Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy was the leader of Awami League, of which Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman was just an ordinary worker.

Suhrawardy had led this party through a victory in the 1954 elections for Constituent Assembly. He was the first person from a party, other than the dominant Muslim League, to be appointed prime minister in 1956. He too was deposed in 1957, due to differences with Iskander Mirza.

Ibrahim Ismail Chundrigar was appointed premier by Iskander Mirza after the resignation of Suhrawardy, who died under mysterious circumstances in a Beirut hotel. Chundrigar remained prime minister for almost two months. He had left office in December 1957. Then Mirza appointed Feroz Khan Noon as the seventh prime minister of Pakistan. He was dismissed after martial law was declared in 1958 by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The political turncoats had then teamed up with bureaucrats and a section of Establishment to eliminate the genuine democratic leadership. With the first martial law of October 27, 1958, it was all over as power no longer belonged to the people of Pakistan.

After 13 years of martial law, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto succeeded to power, and called the shots as president under special arrangements till the 1973 Constitution was passed.

Bhutto then resigned as president to become the prime minister of Pakistan after the 1973 Constitution. He was deposed in 1977 through a coup by Gen Zia. Bhutto was hanged on court orders in 1979, helping Gen Zia rule the country till August 1988 when a plane crash had ended his life and tenure. But before Gen Zia’s demise, Muhammad Khan Junejo was elected as premier of Pakistan after the 1985 non-party elections, only to be dismissed on May 29, 1988 by Gen Zia, just days after he had announced to probe the Ojhri Camp incident in Rawalpindi.

In 1989, abetted by Gen Hameed Gul, Nawaz Sharif had tried to oust Benazir Bhutto’s government in Islamabad by allegedly buying off her MNAs. Benazir had hit back by doing the same in the Punjab Assembly, which was governed by Nawaz Sharif. During the course of this event, Nawaz had “roped in his ‘horses’ and ‘stabled’ them at a Changa Manga forest Rest House near Lahore,” as one analyst had aptly described the situation once. Later these men were taken to Murree to enjoy the weather, though a strict security cover was in place to check their movement. The day when a “no-confidence motion” was to be tabled in the National Assembly, these “guests” were transported to the Lower House of Parliament to cast their votes against Benazir Bhutto, who was equally aware of the situation. Benazir had air-lifted her ‘horses’ through a Pakistan Air Force C-130 aircraft to Swat Valley, where they were lodged at the Serena Hotel. On the day of reckoning, these men were flown back to Islamabad to cast their votes against the no-confidence motion, which ultimately was defeated and Benazir hung on to power.

During the March 2018 Senate elections, allegations of horse-trading were again heard, though all party leaders had denied these accusations vehemently. A large section of journalist fraternity was buzzing with the word “horse-trading” during these polls that had seen Sadiq Sanjrani assume power as Senate chairman.

On March 7, 2018, the Election Commission of Pakistan had announced that it would probe the allegations of horse-trading in the Senate elections and had summoned all the party heads and leaders on March 14, who aired such allegations.

Among the leaders summoned, Imran Khan and Farooq Sattar were the most prominent of all. Zardari has supported Sanjrani then. Other lawmakers who were served notices included PML-N’s information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and Ameer Muqam, as well as MQM-P’s Kh Izhar. Pak Sarzameen Party’s Raza Haroon was also asked to appear before the Commission.

In April 2018, 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.

Imran also announced names of the 20 lawmakers involved in horse-trading during Senate elections. The 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 party’s 13 Khyber Pakhtunkhwa MPAs over allegations of horse-trading in Senate elections.

According to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister’s spokesman of the time, Shaukat Yousafzai, as many as 20 party’s MPAs were facing allegations of selling their votes in Senate elections. He had added that show cause notices had been issued to all concerned to complete investigation.

As far as political defections are 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 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 Gen Ayub Khan — who with help of certain politicians, had managed to become the president of Muslim League (Council).

However, the phenomenon of political defections 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 own 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 Gen Zia came and banned all the political parties, as Ayub had also done.

Many PPP members had defected and 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 the 1990s, deceptions, desertions and defections continued during the intense tug-of-war between the PPP and the PML-N. Large-scale defections were witnessed during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s regime.

A significant section of the PML-N had defected just before the 2002 general elections to form the PML-Q, 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 PML-N 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”. Basically, jumping ship from one party to another has been encouraged by none other than country’s leading political leaders themselves, ably assisted by some ‘hidden’ or ‘more powerful’ hands. Honestly speaking, 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 these independent candidates and support from political entities with just a few seats in their bag. And, we all know how it happens.