PAKISTAN Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) – a think tank dedicated to in-depth studies of burning national issues—has done a great job exposing the not-so-fetching state of democracy within our political parties. The picture that emerges from this study is extremely worrying. What is more worrying is the fact that there exists an almost converse relationship between the quality of internal democracy of political parties and their mass popularity. According to the results of the study, the second of its kind since 2014, the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) is placed at first position with 56% score, the National Party (NP) with 47% score at second, the PTI with 44% score at third, the Awami National Party (ANP) with 40% score at fourth, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) with 36% score at fifth, the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazlur Rehman (JUI-F) and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), both at sixth with 33% score, and the PML-N with 31% at seventh position. Clearly, the weak internal democracy in ‘popular’ parties like PML-N, PPP and MQM seems not to have come in the way of their mass appeal. On the other hand the JI’s relative ‘excellence’ on the internal democracy front seems not to have helped it in winning any significant degree of mass appeal. Some of the highlights of the findings are: Overall quality of political parties’ internal democracy slipped from 43% in 2014 to 40% in 2015; most parties mere lengthened shadow of their leaders; intra-party elections were mere formality in most cases; parties’ funding shrouded in vagueness; ECP lacks capacity to check compliance with law and; parties’ decision-making bodies generally were found to be weak and ineffective.
Looking at the rankings obtained by our political parties on PILDAT’s score card of democracy without the help of relevant historical context most would find it impossible not to put the entire blame on the leadership of the popular parties for the sad state of their internal affairs. It is also possible that the score card read without the context would give ideas to elements that staunchly believe that the solution of Pakistan’s governance problems lies in Army rule.
And what is this historical context? Well, to start with, the first thing Field Marshal Ayub Khan did after banning all the political parties that had existed then (1958) was to freeze their bank accounts, the largest of them being that of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML). When he later formed the Convention Muslim League he had those funds transferred in the name of his party claiming it to be the real successor of the ‘original’ PML. He was the one who actually turned the Armed Forces of Pakistan into a formidable political party of the country.
General Zia after having hanged ZA Bhutto went about exterminating ZAB’s party itself, buying the top leadership and sending the rank and file to the fort. It were the two Bhutto women—Nusrat and Benazir—who fought him tooth and nail and also saved the Party from being hijacked by the compromised top leadership of the party like Mumtaz Bhutto, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi etc., despite being kept on the run relentlessly with Benazir suffering long years of solitary confinement and then being sent into exile while the mother suffered house arrest umpteen times and when free was kept under surveillance round the clock. Persecution of the party and its leadership had continued even after the demise of General Zia. The party’s elected governments were dismissed twice on trumped up charges. And just before it was voted into power for the third time it was robbed of its top leader Benazir Bhutto by having her assassinated in broad daylight in such a way that even today, that is nine years since the smoking gun continues to elude the investigators. But one can still see the broad outlines of this smoking gun in the pages of the book Getting Away With Murder by Heraldo Munoz, the leader of the UN team that was assigned to inquire into the case by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon.
The PMLN was born out of a confrontation that had ensued between the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the establishment led then by the President Ghulam Ishaq Khan. Remember the way the Punjab government was toppled and an establishment stooge, Manzoor Watto was installed as its Chief Minister as soon as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was dismissed on cooked up charges? Even after the Nawaz government was restored by the Supreme Court he was not allowed to function as the PM and was ousted by the then Chief of Army Staff General Kakar. Within months of his second term in office Nawaz was ousted, this time in a military coup, charged with hijacking and tried in an anti- terrorist court. His life was spared only on the intervention of the Saudi government and sent into exile. His family continued to suffer at the hands of the dictator until Musharraf signed the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) deal with the late Benazir Bhutto clearly in order to prolong his dictatorial rule and certainly not to facilitate the come -back of the two mainstream parties.
The Awami National Party (ANP) which started originally as Bacha Khan’s Red Shirts and then turned into National Awami Party led by Wali Khan had remained suspect in the eyes of the establishment all through its history and naturally suffered heavily at its hands. Lately it has become a favourite target for the Tehreek-Taliban of Pakistan. The MQM too has suffered similarly. The latest round of its persecution at the hands of the establishment that began with the launching of the campaign to ‘cleanse’ Karachi of its criminals in 2013 is perhaps the third one. The first round was in 1992-93; the second in 1995-96.
The establishment had kept trying to destroy the mainstream political parties rather too blatantly. Zia’s attempts had damaged the PPP greatly and Musharraf’s attempts damaged the party even more as he created a new party out of the PMLN, naming it PML (Quaid-i-Azam) using the newly created anti-corruption institution—NAB to blackmail the needed number into the King’s party to get his nominated person elected as the Prime Minister.
These are the dangers that have lurked in the shadows all the time for popular political parties forcing them not to maintain a bank account under the party’s name. And fearing manipulation of internal elections by the deep state the popular ones seem to have opted for selecting rather than electing party office bearers.
Now the PPP appears to have already collapsed under the weight of its dynastic burden because the leader who claimed the party after the demise of Benazir just because he was the spouse of the late leader had nothing to back his leadership credentials but the name of Bhutto to go by. The PMLN is likely to meet the same fate if it does not change the party from being the hand maiden of big business led by one of the richest business families of the country—the Sharifs— into a truly democratically constituted political institution. The MQM also needs to come out of its personality cult mode if it hopes to acquire a national character.