Troubled politics for PTI in Punjab
Dr. Hasan Askari Rizvi
The relative and unusual quietness between Pakistan’s two major opposition parties is currently contrasted with fireworks going off within the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The PTI’s problems are two-fold: problems with the allied political parties that have enabled the PTI to muster a clear majority in the National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly; and a growing internal disquiet within the party. Both issues are conspicuous in the province of Punjab.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has been able to push aside these issues, at least for the time being, because of the political clout of his leadership. However, the relief will prove temporary, and these problems will resurface in a couple of weeks because the underlying causes have not been addressed.
The PTI enjoys the support of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-i-Azam (PMLQ), and the Balochistan National Party (BNP). The Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) that heads the coalition government in Balochistan is also an ally of the PTI.
The major theatre of the PTI’s politics is in the country’s most populous, province of Punjab. Its main political partner is the PMLQ that now entertains strong reservations about this partnership. The major reasons for its grievances are shared by other coalition partners, i.e., the non-existent interaction with the PTI leadership for adopting a shared approach on political and economic issues. The PTI decides the policies unilaterally but it expects the PMLQ to defend them.
The absence of regular interaction also adversely affects the capacity of the allied parties to facilitate the work of their voters and activists with the government. Much support for a party at the local level depends on the party’s ability to make life easy for its voters and supporters by seeking favours for them from the government. A failure to do so weakens the party’s influence at the constituency level.
Another PMLQ complaint pertains to the non-accommodation of the demand for state resources and development funds for undertaking public welfare and development work in the constituencies of PMLQ parliamentarians. Still another source of strain in the PTI-PMLQ relations is what the PMLQ leadership claims is the PTI’s refusal to honour all commitments made at the time of initiation of the political partnership immediately after the July 2018 elections.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has set up a committee to take up PMLQ grievances with its leadership. However, the committee comprises people who have limited, if any, political connections with the PMLQ leadership.
The PTI faces yet another set of problems in Punjab due to internal factionalism and backbiting within the party. In the province, there is a strong dissatisfaction among PTI members of the provincial assembly and some cabinet members against the Chief Minister, who is often accused of lacking the capability to run the province. His ability to command the professional bureaucracy is viewed as minimal, which has enabled the bureaucracy to work autonomous of provincial political leaders. The Chief Minister hardly has any personal support in the Punjab PTI and his political survival is attributed solely to Imran Khan’s support-- a support that defies political logic.
The latest political rumblings in PTI Punjab against poor governance and weak political management were taken care of during PM Khan’s visit to Lahore in January, where he adamantly defended the continuation of Punjab’s Chief Minister.
The irony of the PTI in Punjab is that it barely has a single leader of province-wide stature in the provincial assembly who could replace the present Chief Minister if it was to come to that. Most of them, including the Chief Minister, have a tehsil and district level political standing. This deficiency in the PTI has focused a lot of attention on the possibility that PMLQ leader and current Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, could be Chief Minister. In the past, he has already served on this position effectively. However, so far the proposal is not acceptable to Khan and his close associates who think that such a change is likely to undermine PTI interests in the province.
Instead of addressing the issue of distrust between the PMLQ and the PTI, and internal disquiet within the PTI, Khan, in his recent visit to Lahore, neither met with the provincial governor nor with the leadership of the PMLQ to pacify their grievances.
Instead, he spent time with PTI leaders, including the Punjab Cabinet, and defended Punjab’s Chief Minister. The question is, how long can Imran Khan postpone a realistic decision on handling the party’s affairs in Punjab as well as its relations with the PMLQ by relying heavily on the clout of his personality? This can provide short-term relief, but troubled politics in Punjab will soon haunt the PTI again.