The exodus of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders, under pressure or unhappy with their leader, continues
he political landscape is rapidly changing amidst mounting uncertainty about the elections. At the same time, new parties are emerging. The government, facing a financial crunch, has decided to abandon negotiations with the International Monetary Fund. This means that the coalition government might provide some relief to the masses in the budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year.
On the other hand, the exodus of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf leaders, under pressure or unhappy with their leadership, continues.
Since May 9, 113 stalwarts of the PTI including Shirin Mazari, Fawad Chaudhry, Ali Zaidi, Musarrat Jamshed Cheema, Imran Ismail, Jamshed Iqbal Cheema and Amir Kiyani have announced their decision to quit the PTI and national politics. However, so far most of them have not joined any other party.
Shah Mehmood Qureshi is still at Adiyala Jail having refused to sign an undertaking. PTI chairman Imran Khan has said that Qureshi and Pervaiz Khattak will run the party in case he is arrested.
Fawad Chaudhry, who told the media after his release that he would take a break from politics for a while, met Qureshi in jail on May 31. Talking to reporters outside the jail, he said: “The country cannot be left at the mercy of Shahbaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Fazl-ur Rehman. I am actively trying to counter [their politics].” His statement strengthened the impression that plans are being worked out to run the PTI minus Khan once he is disqualified or barred from politics.
Khan, however, remains confident that his party will sweep the elections, bagging a huge majority, even if he is disqualified and the electables, who had joined the PTI before the 2018 election, leave him. Khan does indeed command massive support in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
On the other hand, the parties in the ruling coalition are also making strategies to strengthen their vote banks.
Pakistan Peoples Party leaders are quite active these days as many dissidents from the PTI are leaning towards it. Already, some electable like Sardar Fateh Muhammad Hasni, a former federal minister and MNA from Balochistan. and Haider Ali Khan, a PTI MNA from KP, have joined the party.
Former president Asif Ali Zardari is currently in Lahore. On Wednesday, the PPP made a major breakthrough when 24 former legislators and ticket holders from the PTI joined the PPP after a meeting with Zardari. They hail from Muzaffargarh, Okara, Mianwali, Bahawalnagar and Rahim Yar Khan districts. Further inductions from the PTI are expected over the coming days. Most of the dissidents appear to believe that the PPP is the strongest contender for the next federal government.
Before the elections of 2013 and 2018, a number of PPP electable from south and central Punjab were herded into the PTI. They included Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Amir Dogar, Rana Aftab Khan, Fawad Chaudhry and Abdul Qayyum Jatoi. Now, the PPP is striving to regain lost ground in the Punjab.
Before the elections of 2013 and 2018, several PPP electable from south and central Punjab were herded into the PTI. They included Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Amir Dogar, Rana Aftab Khan, Fawad Chaudhry and Abdul Qayyum Jatoi. The PPP is striving now to regain lost ground in the Punjab.
On the other hand, some of the PTI stalwarts have requested Asif Zardari to facilitate reconciliation between the government-military establishment and Khan. According to persons privy to the matter, Zardari has asked them to first guarantee that Khan will stop badmouthing political and military leaders.
The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the biggest stakeholder in the Punjab, also faces a challenge. The PML-N has multiple aspirants for the party ticket in each constituency in the Punjab. However, it is struggling in the KP, Sindh and Balochistan where it cannot find suitable candidates in many constituencies. The League is also suffering on account of high inflation, unemployment and price-hike.
The PML-N-led coalition government has decided to abandon the on-going talks with the IMF. The News on Sunday (TNS) spoke to several government officials, who said that the purpose behind this move was to provide relief to the masses. “The PDM parties have to contest elections. The IMF wants to burden the government with taxes and high commodities prices. This is not acceptable to the coalition parties. The next government will likely renegotiate the package after the elections. The current government might announce some relief for the masses.”
The government announced a reduction in fuel and LPG prices on June 1. Import duty on mobile phones was also trimmed. Relief on edibles is also expected in the budget. Most PML-N stalwarts are of the view, however, that the relief will not be substantial enough to attract the voters back. “The League needs Nawaz Sharif. Plans for his return might be announced in a couple of weeks.”
Pakistan Muslim League-Qauid (PML-Q), once the king’s party, is again active. Its chief, Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, has been holding meetings with party leaders. Former Punjab governor and a former British parliamentarian Chaudhry Sarwar is in talks with various PTI leaders on his behalf. On Wednesday, former AJK prime minister Sardar Tanvir Ilyas met Shujaat and Sarwar in Lahore. Former PTI MNA from KP Ayesha Gulalai and MPA from Sialkot Ahsan Baryar have also joined the PML-Q. Chaudhry Sarwar is hopeful that the PML-Q can be the biggest beneficiary of the PTI’s breakup. “We are in contact with dozens of former parliamentarians from the Punjab and the KP. Most of them are likely to join the PML-Q,” says Sarwar.
Once considered the most trusted friend of Imran Khan, Jehangir Khan Tareen is once again back on the national political scene. He recently met 20 former legislators from the PTI, who asked him to launch another party. He is also discussing the issue of his disqualification with his legal team. He sees hope in the new law which gives him a chance for filing a review petition before a larger bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. People close to him believe that Tareen’s party can be the king’s party this time around.
Saeed Akbar Niwani, the veteran parliamentarian from Bhakkar, tells TNS: “We met JKT. He should launch a new party. At the moment, we are discussing the organisation and name of the group.” An offshoot of a banned outfit, the Milli Muslim League, has also been re-launched with the name of Pakistan Markazi Muslim League.
The question of when the next elections will be held is also still difficult to answer. So is the question of whether Imran Khan will survive the many cases against him.
The writer is a senior journalist, teacher of journalism, writer and analyst. He tweets at @BukhariMubasher