Since coming to power in April, two of the biggest parties of the country, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and three important regional parties, the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F), Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), have lost a lot of face and value in politics. The reason has been unprecedentedly poor performance due to which the country is facing huge challenges, in particular inflation and massive poverty. Had these parties performed even somewhat better in the government, their political support base would have remained intact at least, if not broadened.
The PML-N, PPP, JUI-F, ANP and MQM have been important political players in the last 30 years and consistently in the government at the federal and provincial levels. However, their leaders faced many cases of financial corruption, abuse of power and nepotism. More importantly in case of the PML-N and PPP, they have always been political rivals before 2008, when they had formed a coalition government in the aftermath of huge Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) insurgency, which saw former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto assassinated in December 2007, just days before national elections in early 2008. However, the coalition had lasted for a few months and soon both parties were at daggers drawn including the then federal government of the PPP imposing Governor’s rule in the PML-N-ruled Punjab province. Both PPP and PML-N have been incessantly arguing against each other’s politics, holding protests against each other’s government and making huge celebrations when the other faced challenges including court cases and political tightrope situations. When the Supreme Court of Pakistan had disqualified PM Nawaz Sharif in 2017, then the PPP declared it a just and completely meritorious decision. During the PPP rule (2008-2013), the PML-N vowed to unveil the corruption of PPP leaders particularly the then President of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari and even current Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif publicly announced dragging Mr. Zardari on the streets of Lahore and Peshawar.
However, both PML-N and PPP started getting closer when the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan won a majority in the 2018 national elections and formed a government. As Imran Khan had contested the election on unveiling the massive financial corruption of former PML-N and PPP regimes in which the JUI-F had also been a perennial coalition partner, while the ANP and MQM occasional partners, they really felt the threat. Therefore, the PML-N and PPP along with JUI-F and ANP and other former ruling parties, like Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP), joined together not to let Imran Khan rule peacefully, so that he could not take up corruption cases to the logical conclusion against their leaders. However, when they found Imran Khan steadfast and refusing to give any concession, they decided to remove his government by hook or crook. Most anti-PTI parties formed the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) in November 2019, spearheaded by JUI-F head Maulana Fazlur Rahman. The Fazl-led JUI-F held a so-called long march in the federal capital to dislodge the PTI government but failed. However, when the PML-N, PPP, JUI-F and ANP saw the writing on the wall that Imran Khan would not step back from taking corruption cases against their leaders to their logical conclusion, they decided to bring the PTI government down by hook or crook.
Although the US was blamed by former PM Khan for orchestrating a conspiracy to bring down his government, one thinks that America was given the perception that he was against Washington and getting closer to Moscow at a time when the US-led West was opposing Moscow’s onslaught on Ukraine. Mr. Khan has not been anti-American as he himself is a Western-educated person who for decades has also lived in England and a great admirer of the Western political and governance system. Going to Moscow by Mr. Khan was aimed at getting oil and gas on cheap prices as the fuel was direly needed in Pakistan.
Thus coming to power together dejected most workers of the PML-N and PPP and they have been thinking that the parties are no more interested in serving people or the country but to work for their vested interests. This perception, apart from their workers and supporters, is very strong generally. The JUI-F, which has always played a religious card to get support and votes, its head Mr. Fazl became fully exposed when he declared the current National Assembly a ‘bogus’ parliament but also contested the election for the office of the President against the PTI nominee and current President Dr. Arif Alvi. Again, the same parliament when voted out Mr. Khan through a stage-managed vote of no-confidence and paved the way for the JUI-F joining the government, he again embraced the current parliament because his son, Asad Mehmud, got the lucrative Ministry of Communication and Works.
The MQM, despite remaining the coalition partner of the PTI for nearly four years, abandoned the latter when it really needed its support in the National Assembly to avoid the vote of no-confidence. This act of the MQM was completely rejected by its own followers. This is evident from the October 16 by-elections. The parochial ANP, which has always played politics in the name of Pashtun sub-nationalism, and whose politics has been lacerated by the PTI phenomenal success in its traditional forte, KP province, which also neutralized the politics of the JUI-F, which has been sharing ANP’s bastion, also got a common enemy in the shape of the PTI to unite against it.
The rise of the PTI and its far better governance vis-à-vis the current 13-party ruling alliance largely neutralized the politics of the PML-N in the Punjab, ANP and JUI-F in KP and MQM in Karachi. The PPP, with extremely poor governance in Sindh, particularly during the current floods, which devastated its long-ruled province, has also created a huge space for the PTI in rural Sindh, the bastion of the PPP. In case elections are held within few months and Mr. Khan remains alive, then the PML-N, PPP, JUI-F, ANP and MQM would face a huge challenge to remain politically relevant. Unless all these parties sans the MQM restructure themselves and abandon politics of power, nepotism and above all family dominance their downslide cannot be arrested. No matter how strong the PML-N struggles to make Maryam Nawaz, the PPP Bilawal Zardari, the ANP Aimal Wali and JUI-F Asad Mehmud new leaders of their parties, it won’t be possible unless they are elected through fair, open and transparent internal party elections.