New Jamaat chief

Published April 7, 2024

HAFIZ Naeemur Rehman’s election as the new emir of Jamaat-i-Islami signals a generational shift in the religious party’s leadership, as the Karachi-based leader defeated veterans, including outgoing JI chief Sirajul Haq, and Liaquat Baloch for the top slot. Hafiz Naeem, a seasoned campaigner who was active in Jamiat, the JI’s student wing, as well as at the local government level, has been vocal about Karachi’s civic issues and courted younger voters, in contrast with the often dour, traditionalist rhetoric of the Jamaat old guard. Some observers feel JI could have led the Karachi local government, with Hafiz Naeem as the megacity’s mayor, had invisible hands not ‘guided’ the results of last year’s LG elections. But that chapter is now closed, and it remains to be seen how the new Jamaat chief will address national issues.

While many may disagree with the JI’s right-wing ideology, there are lessons mainstream parties can learn from the Jamaat’s smooth leadership transitions over the last eight decades. Firstly, there appears to be a sufficient amount of internal democracy within the religious party. Though the JI’s electoral college is limited to a small number of members and not all supporters, internal elections are regular and largely non-controversial. As opposed to this, most mainstream, religious and even nationalist parties in Pakistan are run like personal fiefdoms, with only a fig leaf of internal democracy. In Pakistan’s political parties, one’s last name, or closeness to the party’s ruling family, guarantees success, over merit or competence. Furthermore, during his more than a decade-long stint as JI’s Karachi head, Hafiz Naeem raised civic issues, such as water and power woes, rampant crime, etc. Sadly, most parties are out of touch with the problems of the average Pakistani, and offer only sops to the voter. More internal democracy, less family-based appointments, and a commitment to solving the people’s problems are required within parties for the health of Pakistani democracy.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2024

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