What is making politicians leave one political party and join another?
In the run up to the next general elections, there are defections and change of loyalties among politicians in a large number. Every other day one sees elected members or heavyweights belonging to one party switching to the other.
Many elected members claim they were waiting to take this step as the completion of incumbent government’s tenure neared. In case they switched their loyalties earlier, they would have to resign from their seats and contest by-election under the ticket of the parties they had joined. This is what happened in the case of Javed Hashmi, former MNA who left PML-N and joined PTI but lost the by-election. But now they can switch parties as there is no time for by-elections.
Given how things are moving pre-elections, one wonders if selected people are propelled into power to keep others out. The way the state departments and institutions, that were not vigilant earlier, are giving a tough time to the incumbent government strengthens this impression.
The statement of former Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif about "aliens" being his main competitors talks volume about his helplessness in the current scenario. He has also alleged that the apex court, NAB and other elements, including the PTI, have colluded with each other and are out to remove him from the political scene and break his party.
Sharif’s allegations aside, several other developments show a well-thought-out plan regarding the upcoming elections is at work. Different players, including the national, regional and religious parties are involved in a sort of political engineering with the purpose of gaining maximum benefits in the number game.
Disqualification for life of Nawaz Sharif, Khawaja Asif and Jahangir Tareen, abrupt formation of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) with heavyweights joining it, toppling of the PML-N government in Balochistan, successful maneuvering by the PPP in Senate elections, the resignation of MPs in South Punjab and them demanding a new province and joining the PTI, defragmentation of the MQM, etc, are a few examples of how the stage is being set for the upcoming elections.
The question is how active and effective is the oft-quoted but loosely defined establishment in this context. Is its role is being overstated and exaggerated?
Senior journalist and political analyst, Suhail Warraich agrees that many other factors, other than a role of the establishment, are at play. "Switching of political parties at the time of elections is a very common phenomenon and it happens all over the world, mainly because politicians do not want to stay out of power. They jump ship when they see another party stands a good chance to form government and think joining it can add to their votes."
Other reasons, he thinks, can be disagreement among candidates for national and provincial assembly seats in the same constituency, genuine grievances against party leadership, fading chances of getting party tickets, uneasiness due to importance given to rival groups and so on.
Warraich says the establishment is in control of about 50 national assembly seats that may favour the party or parties that enjoys its support. "Most of these seats are in areas like Karachi and Hyderabad, Balochistan and tribal areas of Pakistan where military operations have been carried out in recent past. As the establishment has extraordinary influence in such areas due to extraordinary circumstances it is in a better position to manipulate them."
He adds, some of them are forced to obey instructions from powerful quarters because they are in weak due to corruption and abuse of power.
The general perception at the moment is that the PTI is the favourite party and electables are joining it in hordes, either of their own free will or at the behest of powerful sectors.
PTI Senator and former Punjab Governor, Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar, who was with the PML-N earlier, claims there is no disagreement among party members. "Tickets will be awarded to those who stand the best chance to win." He also rules out involvement of the establishment in politicians’ defections to PTI. "They are joining it because it is apparent the party will come into power this time."
Sarwar agrees that a similar wave of defections engulfed the 2013 elections. He clarifies that although back then the PTI was not in a position to form the government, "regardless of rigging. It is a fact that on a large number of seats the security deposits of PTI candidates were confiscated but the situation is far better this time."
Chaudhry Manzoor, former MNA from the PPP, disagree with Sarwar. He says another round of defections is expected, "this time the defectors will be the aspirants who will be denied tickets by the PTI. It’s too idealistic to think they will not protest and accept the party decision. They joined the party for getting a ticket and can leave for a ticket."
Another reason for defections, especially in Punjab, is the new delimitations done by the ECP on the basis of 2017 census results. Many electables have either lost their constituencies or have been merged with other constituencies. Take the case of former PML-N MNA, Mian Tariq Mehmood, who was elected from NA 98 Gujranwala. Earlier, there were seven NA seats in Gujranwala but now there are six, with NA 98 fragmenting and its parts merging into these constituencies. Mehmood has moved to PTI because the new constituency already has a stronger base for PTI ticket.
Bilal Virk is another former PML-N MNA who has defected to PTI for the reason that his constituency, comprising areas of Nankana Sahib and Sheikhupura, has disappeared in the delimitations. He did not stand a chance to get a PML-N ticket from the other constituency where another PML-N heavyweight won elections in 2013.
PML-N loyalists term the new delimitations a part of political engineering because their stronghold -- Punjab -- has lost seven NA seats after this exercise. KP has gained four seats, Balochistan two and Islamabad one, while there is no change in the number of seats for Fata and Sindh. The total tally of general NA seats is 272 as before.
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Political analyst, Salman Abid, says there are both opportunists and ideologues among politicians. "There are very few instances where ideologues have left their parties and even in these cases they have had serious reservations against their party leadership." He says the establishment’s support has weightage but it does not mean it is always successful in achieving the desired results. "It is imperative to field the most appropriate candidates to win and all the parties, including PML-N, PPP and PTI have been receiving politically strong defectors for this very reason."