WITH Imran Khan’s once-close allies, Faisal Vawda and Khurram Hameed Rokhri, falling out with him and consequently losing their party memberships, political pundits see this as an indication the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) may also go down the path that other mainstream parties did in the past — ‘electables’ flying out of its camp (on the signal of the powers that be) ahead of the next general elections.

In background conversations with Dawn, a couple of senior PTI leaders have acknowledged that attempts to “poach some birds” from their camp had already been launched by powerful quarters, but claimed the moves hadn’t been successful “thanks to the massive popularity of Imran Khan”.

The term ‘electable’ is often used for individuals or political families that have a personal clout in their constituency and a sizable vote bank, which is independent of their affiliation with any political party.

Just before the PTI launched its ongoing long march from Lahore on Oct 28, senior PTI leader Faisal Vawda had, in a late-night presser, surprised many by foreboding that the march on Islamabad would be “bloody with possible deaths of innocent people”.

Similarly, retired Maj Rokhri attempted to take the air out of his party chairman’s narrative by speaking in favour of intelligence officer Maj Gen Faisal Naseer — who Mr Khan accuses as one of those who conspired to have him eliminated in Wazirabad. The party has terminated the membership of both leaders.

Conspicuous by their absence

Previously, more than 60 electables, especially those belonging to the PML-N and PPP from Punjab, had joined the PTI ahead of the 2018 general elections. The party of the Sharifs had alleged that the powerful military establishment forced these leaders to ditch the PML-N to join the PTI so that Mr Khan could be conveniently ‘brought to power’.

Going further back, retired Gen Pervez Musharraf had carved out the PML-Q from the PML-N at turn of the century.

Currently, Mr Khan’s party is on the roads, taking on “the Sharifs, Zardaris and the establishment” with a demand for snap polls, but the PTI’s own electables, like Khusro Bakhtiar (Rahim Yar Khan), Nazar Gondal (Mandi Bahauddin), Tahir Iqbal and Aurangzeb Khichi (Vehari), Fakhar Imam (Khanewal), Khawaja Sheraz Mahmood and Amjad Khosa (Dera Ghazi Khan), Jaffar Leghari and Sardar Nasrullah Dreshak (Rajanpur) have not been seen as taking an active part in recent protests.

This has set tongues wagging, and many are expecting history to repeat itself ahead of the next elections, whenever they are held.

‘Poaching attempts’

“Efforts by the establishment to break the party and force a good number of our lawmakers and leaders to part ways with Imran Khan are already under way. But all such attempts have failed… PTI leaders are not bowing down to pressure from hidden hands,” a senior PTI leader, who wished not to be named, claimed.

“Let me tell you, this time around the hidden hands will not succeed in poaching any birds from our camp nor will rigging work,” he confidently stated.

Senior PTI leader and former information minister Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn that Imran Khan’s unprecedented popularity had eroded the concept of ‘electables’ for the next elections. “Whosoever will leave Mr Khan will become zero,” he claimed, confidently.

Despite pressure, he said, no PTI member would take the chance of switching loyalties. “Who would not want to contest on a PTI ticket, which is a hot commodity right now?”

His boast harks back to the allegiance-switching seen ahead of the vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan, when PTI dissidents were not only derided by the party, but were also accosted. Some were harassed in public places, others had their homes beseiged, while many leaders saw their faces being stamped on or effigies being torched at the hands of overzealous party workers.

Perhaps the party believes that the fear of just such a backlash will keep members in line this time around.

Will popularity help woo marginalised segments?

Political scientist Dr Muhammad Waseem is of the view that the 2018 practice (electables made to switch loyalties) could be repeated before the next polls. “In 2018, the PML-N was the most popular party (especially in Punjab) and now it is the PTI.

The PTI will survive even if some of its loyalists or electables part ways at some point,“ he maintained, adding however if Mr Khan and the establishment reach some ‘settlement’ before the elections, this situation might not arise.

Author and political activist Dr Nukhbah Langah said electables usually switched loyalty at the time of an election considering their political benefits.

“Several south Punjab electables had joined the PTI ahead of the 2018 polls on the apparent assurance of creation of a new province for the people of the south… but at the end of the day, it turned out to be a political slogan only, as the PTI, like the PML-N, was never sincere to this cause,” she remarked.

When asked if the situation this time could be different considering Imran Khan’s popularity, Dr Langah believed the popularity of a leader didn’t matter much in Pakistan close to an election, as “someone else calls the shots here”.

“The people of the South don’t trust the electables of the region and will continue their struggle for the cause. I’m not convinced that Imran Khan’s popularity means he acknowledges marginalised identities such as the Seraiki. I find him detached from our cause. His advocates are mainly the educated elite,” she said.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2022

Opinion

Editorial

Afghan puzzle
Updated 28 May, 2024

Afghan puzzle

Unless these elements are neutralised, it will not be possible to have the upper hand over terrorist groups.
Attacking minorities
28 May, 2024

Attacking minorities

WHILE Pakistan has watched many perish in the cauldron of sacrilege, the state has done little to turn down the...
Persistent scourge
28 May, 2024

Persistent scourge

THE challenge of polio in Pakistan has reached a new nadir, drawing grave concerns from the Technical Advisory Group...
Mercury rising
Updated 27 May, 2024

Mercury rising

Each of the country's leaders is equally responsible for the deep pit Pakistan seems to have fallen into.
Antibiotic overuse
27 May, 2024

Antibiotic overuse

ANTIMICROBIAL resistance is an escalating crisis claiming some 700,000 lives annually in Pakistan. It is the third...
World Cup team
27 May, 2024

World Cup team

PAKISTAN waited until the very end to name their T20 World Cup squad. Even then, there was last-minute drama. Four...