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Are the candidates described as accidental less effective than the anticipated ones?

Rent a candidate


 entered electoral politics by accident. However, now that I am in the arena, I am determined to do the best I can to serve you,” Zulfiqar Dullah tells a cheering crowd at a corner meeting in Chakwal.

He is not a rare candidate making such a pitch. Almost every other politician appearing on TV makes has a similar story, one way or the other. Some of them add that they do not do ‘politics’ and that their objective is public welfare.

The line of argument sounds provocative and appeals to many voters. It also adds an element of drama to the campaign. There is an implication that the accidental candidate is the ultimate alternative and the right horse to bet on. At the same time, the claim also serves as an excuse for potential failure.

An ‘accidental candidate’ is generally understood to be one who had not been planning to contest elections but was chosen to do so. The description also covers those who end up running on a ticket other than the one they had aspired for.

It is rare, however, for such perceptions to be rooted in fact. In most cases, candidature is no accident. Politics is art of the possible. There are two broad reasons behind the rise and fall of those claiming to be accidental candidates. One, most parties do not put in enough effort on strengthen their organisations, leaving wide tracts of gray that these ‘accidental candidates’ exploit. Two, the parties face external challenges and are torn down or cobbled together by elements over which they have little control.

Recent interviews with local workers indicate that Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf is currently the only party having a traceable structure at the grassroots level in Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Having ignored the organisation, party workers have little say at the time of allotment of party tickets in their constituencies.

The gray areas are open to opportunists, who later call themselves ‘accidental candidates,’ to point out that they do not belong to the place they have landed in. They are in the business because the parties rely on short cuts and quick fixes. Sometimes the candidates come recommended. An example of this in 2018 elections was the Junoobi Punjab Sooba Mahaz whose leaders ditched Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz en mass to ally with the PTI. They all were with the PML-N earlier. Most of them have now joined the Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party. Some of them, it has been alleged, had wanted to join the PPP or the PML-N but were pressured into joining the IPP instead.

Due to their lack of homework, in many constituencies, political parties have no obvious candidates. Potential candidates exploit this situation by hedging their bets. An example of this in Balochistan was Sarfraz Bugti, who was said to have been negotiating with both the PPP and the PML-N. The story of some BAP leaders was quite similar too.

As a party focused mostly on the Punjab, the PML-N tends to make more errors in other provinces. When its workers in those provinces are denied tickets, some of them bid for tickets from other parties.

In some cases, the parties do not care too much about loyalty. Zulfiqar Dullha was a PML-N candidate in 2018. He was speaking at a public gathering when he got a phone call and switched parties right there, winning the election on a PTI ticket. After the PTI was ousted from power, he joined the IPP. However, as the election approached, he was offered a PPP ticket and accepted it.

Another accidental candidate in a nearby constituency is Malik Ghulam Mustafa Kanowal. The former Jamaat-i-Islami leader, had supported PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry in 2018. This time he applied for a ticket of the PML-N as well as the PTI and was interviewed by both parties and got a PTI ticket.

Sometimes a party is splintering or being cobbled together close to an election. In the current scenario, the candidates who had been awarded tickets by the PTI face interesting times. On the one hand some rivals may dispute their claim for the ticket, thereby depriving them of some of the party vote; on the other, they will not be bound to the PTI once they have won their seats. In most cases, the parties whose candidates they defeat, will be willing to embrace them.

Journalist Majid Nizami, an expert on election politics, says there is another reason for the rise of accidental candidates. “Many politicians put up their relatives in the race as alternative candidates. If the intended candidate gets disqualified or stopped from participating on administrative grounds, their relatives get to run the race.”

“When President Pervez Musharraf made a university degree a requirement, a large number of politicians were disqualified. A majority of them then fielded their relatives in a bid to retain their relevance in politics.”

This is still happening, he says. After nomination papers of PTI leader Abdul Majeed Niazi were rejected from Layyah, his wife Ambar Niazi, became candidate.

Similarly, Muhammad Khan Bhatti, the PML-Quaid stalwart from Mandi Bahauddin, has been succeeded by his wife Kosar Muhammad Khan Bhatti, following the rejection of his nomination.

Nizami also sees Aoun Chaudhry as an example of accidental candidature. Having left the PTI and joined the IPP, Chaudhry is running for a seat the heart of Lahore with PML-N support.

Lehaz Ali, an AFP correspondent, says that the situation is different in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa where Murad Saeed’s father is running in his place.

The real problem, says Ali, is the hijacking of political scene by big money. In 2002, he says, many industrialists and government contractors stepped into the political vacuum and occupied political space. They consolidated their gains in 2008 and the subsequent elections. He counts Engr Ameer Muqaam, the Tarakai family and the Saheeb-ur Rehman family in this category. He says politics in the KP had been a preserve of the elite in the 20th Century, a family thing. He says the PTI was able to replace some of these people with a new crop of political workers.

“The Mehboob-ur Rehman family (in Swat) are billionaires. However, his son Saleem-ur Rehman was forced to request Fazle Hakeem, who runs a kebob shop, for the party ticket,” he says.

He says the PML-N and the PPP have not shown enough interest in the KP in recent elections to make them competitive. This, he says, has worked to the advantage of the PTI and new candidates, whom some people call accidental candidates because they do not come from established families.

Dr Tahir Nadeem Malik is a teacher and analyst. His X handle is @TahirNaermMalik.

Dr Hassan Shahzad Zaidi is a veteran journalist and teacher of journalism. His X handle is @capital_calling.

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