Political sacrifice

Published November 30, 2023

THE PTI will soon see a change of management — at least on paper. The kerfuffle that preceded this momentous announcement, however, has been in keeping with the party’s chaotic internal workings.

On Tuesday, two conflicting statements from within the PTI — one from newly appointed senior vice president Sher Afzal Marwat, one posted on the party’s official social media accounts — revealed that a once unthinkable possibility, the replacement of Imran Khan as PTI chairman, was finally being considered.

The move was explained by Mr Marwat as a strategy to allow Mr Khan to continue dealing with his legal challenges without putting the PTI’s political future at risk.

However, while Mr Marwat proclaimed that a replacement had also been picked, the PTI contradicted him by insisting that no final decision had been made. By Wednesday afternoon, however, the PTI had sheepishly confirmed Mr Marwat’s earlier statement: Mr Khan’s lawyer, Gohar Ali Khan, had been handpicked by the PTI chief as his candidate for the party’s chairmanship in the upcoming intra-party polls.

It bears remembering that the party was recently told by the ECP that it would lose its coveted ‘bat’ election symbol if it did not hold intra-party elections soon, and it was in this context that the PTI was forced to discuss a replacement for Mr Khan, whose own eligibility to remain chairman is moot due to his disqualification and the cases against him.

However, the conflicting statements from senior PTI leaders and the initial disbelief within the party’s rank and file over the prospect of Mr Khan stepping down made it clear that it was not an easy proposition for PTI’s staunchest supporters to digest.

Nor would it have been for Mr Khan, who is not really known for selfless leadership. Relinquishing control over the party, especially at a time when his own popularity is at its peak, could not have been an easy decision.

However, the alternative would have been to risk the PTI being forced to sit out the upcoming elections.

Mr Khan should be commended for displaying political maturity and ensuring that his party will remain able to contest the upcoming elections. He has avoided learning the hard way that missing out on elections ends up not only inflicting lasting costs on political parties, but also on national politics.

The late Benazir Bhutto had famously regretted the PPP’s boycott of the 1985 elections, which, she believed, allowed political nobodies to fill the power vacuum and led to the rise of a political class that represented narrow interests rather than public aspirations.

The chairmanship will not have been an easy sacrifice for Mr Khan, but if it ensures that the PTI ship will stay afloat till it finds more favourable winds, it will have been a worthy one.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2023

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