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PTI’s unravelling from within

Updated June 05, 2018

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THOSE the gods want to destroy, they first make mad. The words come to mind as the PTI stumbles around. And this merely weeks after it appeared to be on the cusp of an electoral victory. Five years after 2013, the party seemed to be an electoral force to be reckoned with.

Many analysts (with due apologies to Saleem Safi who disagrees) feel that the party might repeat its performance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where it is enemy number one for most other parties, be it the MMA, ANP or the PPP. In Punjab, it appears to be the only force confronting the juggernaut called the PML-N. And apart from the PPP, the PTI is the only party which may make inroads in the urban areas of Sindh due to the fracturing of the MQM. Even five years ago, when the MQM was in complete control of Karachi, the PTI had emerged as the second largest party in the city in terms of votes polled.

All of this was obvious to the party, as it exuded confidence, holding a decent gathering at Lahore’s Minar-i-Pakistan, presenting its 11-point agenda and then a 100-day plan, which rattled the PML-N into sending half its cabinet to retaliate.

And then came the unravelling.

The PTI’s disgruntled lot tends to mess with the party’s chances.

Beginning with the spat between Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Jahangir Tareen the party has been in the news for all the wrong reasons since then. The two south Punjab leaders had never been the best of friends and their rivalry was always fodder for gossip in Islamabad but in recent times, their tu tu main main (bickering) during a meeting made headline news.

Then, the fiasco, which was the consultation over the caretaker governments, focused attention on the PTI for all the wrong reasons. The party took its habit of dithering, or kabhi haan, kabhi naan, to unprecedented levels. Apart from the mess in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in Punjab it agreed to Nasir Khosa as the next caretaker chief minister and then backtracked due to ‘criticism’ in the media (or rather on Twitter). Or was it really the pleasure the two Sharif brothers expressed over the nomination?

The uncharitable ones put the PTI’s flip flop down to a message from the khalai makhlooq (‘aliens’). It was hard to find an individual outside the party ranks who could defend the decision.

Observers still had not stopped puzzling over this and the critics hadn’t stopped laughing when the party jumped straight into the fire. As the news came that the party’s new list of nominees for the caretaker position in Punjab included a journalist whose views hadn’t really caught up with the 20th century, let alone the new millennium, the PTI further tied itself up in knots.

While the party’s spokesman, Fawad Chaudhry, insisted the journalist in question wasn’t on the list, Mian Mehmoodur Rashid (the man responsible for the talks with Shahbaz Sharif) insisted the name had been cleared by the Khan himself. Never before had Fawad Chaudhry sounded so unlike himself as he conceded on live television that there was a shortage of communication within the party. But the fault was neither his nor that of Rashid. It was Khan’s — not only is he indecisive, he takes decisions in haste, only to regret them. (Remember the civil disobedience announcement.) And it appears that whoever speaks to him last, gets to convince him — till the next persuader comes along.

It was this lack of homework and back and forth, which led to a ‘haan’ in Khosa’s case, followed by a ‘naan’, days later. Similarly, it is hard to believe that Rashid didn’t get his green signal before making the journalist’s name public — only to be embarrassed, when others made the kaptaan realise the follies of the choice. The caretakers had yet to be resolved when the action shifted to Karachi where Amir Liaquat, who had barely settled down in the party, let loose on Twitter his unhappiness with the ticket distribution.

But Amir Liaquat’s rant might be a curtain-raiser of the mess in Punjab. With the PTI’s open-arms welcome to many electables, the party has multiple aspirants for tickets in many Punjab constituencies. In one constituency in Faisalabad, a recent entrant from PML-N, Raza Nasrullah Ghumman, will be faced with former state minister Asif Tauseef while in Sialkot, Firdous Ashiq Awan may want the ticket that Chaudhry Ameer Hussain is also said to be interested in.

A recent news story claimed that in Multan, Sikander Bosan, who was part of the PML-N government’s cabinet, was set to adopt the party of change (once again). And this upset a handful of PTI leaders including ticket-seekers from NA-154 and PP-213 who threatened on the weekend to resist his re-entry. “He was the man who stabbed the party in the back just ahead of 2013 election. He was granted party ticket but he became a turncoat at eleventh hour,” their press release said.

There also have been reports that many of the Janoobi Suba Mahaz lot, who fear they may not get the tickets, have made a contingency plan to contest election independently if dumped by the party.

And unlike the PML-N, which knows how to suppress dissent, the PTI’s disgruntled lot tends to mess with the party’s chances. (Perhaps this is why there are reports the party has asked ticket aspirants to commit that if they don’t get the ticket, they will not contest the election independently against the PTI candidate.)

And where the party may be grappling with too many suitors in some places, there are reports of many central Punjab seats where the party doesn’t have enough strong candidates. In Lahore, for instance, a handful of seats have attracted many suitors and the rest, too few.

Indeed, the party needs to put its own house in order and soon — and the first step has to be a more institutionalised form of decision-making, where an individual is not making decisions and then backtracking. Formal consultations followed by democratic decision-making may help resolve some of the crises facing the party. Otherwise, 2018 might turn out to be the election when the PTI snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

The writer is a journalist.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2018