Independents’ test

Published February 12, 2024

THE political landscape of Pakistan is witnessing an extraordinary scenario. Following the Feb 8 general elections, PTI-backed independent candidates face some difficult choices, which challenge the conventional dynamics of party politics. This development will surely herald a period of intense political manoeuvring. The ECP’s results, though still provisional, indicate a seismic shift. For the first time in the nation’s history, a party-based election has seen the largest number of independents clinching victory. This outcome, unexpected by many, especially the powerful quarters who believed that sidelining PTI and denying them their poll symbol would change the course of the election, is a clear message from the populace. Despite the loss of the symbol, the people have spoken, pinning their hopes on individuals who they think will represent the party. The critical question now is whether the PTI can retain these independents amid the frenzy that is about to ensue with major parties attempting to woo them over to their side. The lure of ministerial portfolios, chairmanships, and other perks is powerful, and the invisible pressures exerted by various quarters are not to be underestimated. While those unaffiliated with the PTI may naturally gravitate towards those forming government, the loyalty of the party’s independents and their resistance to external influences will be a test of their political mettle. Yielding to temptation or intimidation raises the question: can these independents genuinely represent their constituents?

The ECP’s present framework, allowing the independents only a three-day window to join a party post-notification, may inadvertently contribute to such opportunistic politics rather than fostering a stable political culture. The commission must allow for more flexibility in its rules, and give PTI’s independents enough time to hold intra-party elections, regain their symbol and join the House as a cohesive unit. It is not without precedent, as the ECP granted the ANP a symbol without conducting intra-party polls. Currently, there are reports that the PTI’s independents may join the Majlis Wahdat-i-Muslimeen so they may raise their numbers with the addition of reserved seats and contend for leader of the House. Whatever they decide, the path chosen by these independents will not only determine the immediate political landscape but also set a precedent for future elections. Their decisions, whether driven by principle or pragmatism, will shape our democracy for years to come.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2024

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