PTI going from potential to serious ‘spoiler’?
The faint but unmissable whiff of electioneering is in the Islamabad air. The general elections might be two years away, but political parties and potential candidates are already aligning themselves to ensure the political winds do not sweep them away.
The greatest potential for a surprising change, according to a worker of the Free and Fair Election Network (Fafen) group who has worked in the Punjab, comes from dissatisfied members of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), specifically those aligned with chief minister Shahbaz Sharif. These members are not only unhappy with Nawaz Sharif’s leadership of the party, they also fear that the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) will be very competitive in the province.
The PTI, says the Fafen worker, have a good shot at picking up seats in Lahore and other urban areas of Punjab, almost all at the expense of the PML-N. He estimates that the PTI, which boycotted the 2008 elections and had dismal results in the 2003 and 1997 elections, could pick up as many as 10 to 15 seats in the next elections and play the role of a spoiler, denying the PML-N the chance to form the government.
One of the more prominent PML-N members thought to be considering a shift is Hanif Abbasi, who has less loyalty to the party having only joined it in 2007 after leaving the Jamaat-e-Islami.
Abbasi is seriously contemplating jumping ship and attaching himself to the PTI but it is far more likely that he will wait for the election results in 2013 before making a final decision.
Other, less important members of the PML-N, though, could start making the switch to the PTI from next year.
In the coming months the PTI will also be picking up dissatisfied members from the various Muslim Leagues, especially the ‘Q’ franchise. Jehangir Tareen has been making a lot of noise of forming a party of incorruptible people, and Ishaq Khan Khakwani, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Awais Leghari and Jamal Leghari are poised to join him.
These dissatisfied members face two choices: either to form their own party or join the PTI. Whichever decision they ultimately make, the effect will be the same as any potential new party would ally itself to the PTI.
This new ‘clean’ party, however, is a bit dirtier than the rhetoric would have you believe. As the minister for industries, production and special initiatives, Tareen managed to get a low-interest loan for himself from the Asian Development Bank which he used to set up two sugar mills.
Tareen has also been embroiled in a spat with his brother-in-law Makhdoom Ahmed Mahmood. Mahmood was the district nazim in Rahim Yar Khan and got Tareen elected from his area in 2002. In the 2008 elections, Mahmood helped Tareen get elected on a PML-F ticket. Recently, however, they have had a falling out as Mahmood has accused Tareen of stealing Rs3 billion worth of shares in JDW sugar mill, taking over the company in the process. Mahmood took back control of the mill through force and fired the management and has now ditched Tareen, making him less of a political asset than before.
Whatever else one thinks of Imran Khan, he, and his party, have never been accused of such financial shenanigans. However, with Imran inviting Tareen to his dharna against corruption last month, this could be a sign that the PTI is willing to compromise its first principles to be politically competitive.
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