New party on the block

Editorial Board
Saturday, May 27, 2023

Pakistani politics has mostly been a case of musical chairs between two main parties – with the occasional benevolent help from the not-so-hidden powers-that-be-and-are – that would also be disrupted ever so often by a ‘new party’. Full of promise, sudden new parties have rarely if ever survived for long. Will 2023 be different? Estranged PTI leader Jahangir Khan Tareen must be hoping so. The businessman-cum-politician has reportedly decided to form a new national-level political party. Sources say that Tareen will be the patron-in-chief of his new party and many important PTI leaders from across the country have contacted him and those upset with the PTI are also expected to join the new party. These reports are not unexpected. As the PTI falls like a house of cards, with the party’s leaders quitting every day, it was expected that a lot of them would be looking for a new ‘home’. While there are some who have already joined other parties like the PML-Q, PPP and others, there are many PTI leaders who wouldn’t opt to join any PDM party for a number of reasons, one of which being that some of them had gone too far in attacking political opponents to please their leader. They would rather join a new party, especially if an old PTI leader like Tareen is leading it.

So, does that mean the PTI is effectively over? Not necessarily. There has been ample analysis that says that there could be a chance that a PTI minus-Imran and led by someone like Asad Umar would also be a viable option for some of those who may have left the party but would then come back into the PTI fold again. PTI leader Asad Umar’s recent press conference where he resigned from his party positions but did not leave the party has led to a lot of speculation regarding the future of the party. Many have taken this as a sign that if Imran Khan decides to step away or is jailed/convicted, Asad Umar may replace him as the party head. But there is also the fact – proven as we saw on May 9 as well – that the PTI is more of a personality cult and that without Imran Khan, there is no PTI because at the end of the day: it is Imran’s vote. It is not for nothing that Imran Khan is so confident in himself.

In this sense, perhaps Imran’s biggest mistake was his impatience to get back into power. Political parties never really disappear into thin air – not even political parties stitched together to the extent the PTI was. Political leaders in Pakistan have always preferred the wisdom of waiting and watching. Some go into exile or just remain silent, waiting for the right time to make a comeback. The PTI has instead of understanding the compulsions that have historically led to such politics chosen to mock opponents for a perceived lack of strength. Unfortunately, the party was confusing its own propped-up existence for bravery and strength – a notion they have been rather rudely disabused of. As for a new party, the fact is that parties ‘brokered’ into existence are far more vulnerable. We have already seen the fate of the PML-Q – and to an extent the astonishingly quick dismantling of the PTI. But in a politics where electables rule the roost, any new party that has enough ‘electables’ would always be able to pose at least a short-term challenge.