PTI: elite control of intra-party elections by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

In literal sense democracy means devolving power to the people and enabling them to control their destiny. Pakistan Tehrike Insaf (PTI) started a good trend of intra-party elections based on popular vote of members for party positions rather than selection by the top. The sad part is that it seems the objective of the intra-party elections was merely brand marketing of promoting PTI image as a party of change. The other out come of these elections was legitimizing the control of the elite/electable on the party and eradicating the influence of middle class. These two outcomes if not reversed will have far reaching consequences not only for PTI but also for Pakistan. I observed the intra-party elections closely and would like to share my observation with you.

A steering committee was formed by PTI to develop rules and procedures for holding intra-party elections. This committee was supposed to complete its work in three months but it took them nine months which left no time for the party to prepare for general elections. The main reason for this delay was groupings inside the party to protect their influence and retain their control.

When it all started, the first step in preparing for the election was a membership drive. PTI volunteers were asked to register new members on specially printed membership books. These books were sold at the cost of Rs. 25 per book of 25 membership forms or in other words Rs. 1 per membership. This provided the rich and wealthy an opportunity to start escalating their influence in the party. They bought books in bulk and distributed it to their hand picked supporters. In the membership drive it was claimed that 10 million people registered to became members. Out of these seven million were approved to vote in the intra-party elections. This means that at least 7 million rupees were spent just on membership forms. This is separate from the logistical and other cost incurred by volunteers to sign up new members. This seven million rupees fund was provided by rich and electable members in each district.

The other damage done to the party during the membership drive was that activists of other political parties took full part in it. Most of these people were brought in when electable from other parties started joining PTI. These were not only former MNAs and MPAs but also former Nazim’s and Naib Nazims. This dynamic increased their influence in the party which we all came to know when approximately 40% of PTI union council office holders were campaigning for other party candidates. This also provided valuable organizational information of PTI to other parties.

When the election procedure was announced, it was decided that nomination fee for each union council position will be Rs.500. In each union council cabinet there were 13 members so the total cost of each panel to compete was Rs. 6500. This may sound small but in a village where an average income is Rs. 10000 per month the cost of nomination plus election campaign expenses make it an insurmountable hurdle for a large majority of honest members. It becomes even harder if they have to compete with candidates that are financed and supported by rich landowner of the district. This further increased the political clout of local elites and their supporters in the party.

In each tehsil there are on average 13 union councils which means around Rs. 84,500 were needed just for nomination fees apart from other costs involved in campaigning for the elections. The nomination fees tehsil and District cabinet positions, each comprised of 31 members, were raised to Rs. 1000 to Rs. 1500 per nomination. The fees for regional positions were Rs. 5000 and central positions nomination fees were close to Rs. 10000 to Rs. 25000. To sum it up in each district the total cost of the intra-party election was on average Rs. 1,000,000 or around Rs. 140 million for the whole country. This amount is on the conservative side as in some districts where there were two rich landlord competing the costs of campaigning went even higher. This expenditure was too high for middle class members to bear so the rich and powerful in each district found their opportunity to install their supporters in these positions.

Some may argue that most District Presidents of PTI are middle class people. This is true but these Presidents are toothless in most cases. These District Presidents are obliged to the rich that financed the intra-party elections in their districts. Secondly, the rich and elite focused on securing more influential positions for themselves in the region, province, and central executive council so they conveniently allowed PTI loyalists to become District and Tehsil Presidents. Powers of the District Presidents was further curtailed since the union council cabinets were stuffed with people supported by the rich elites. The electable and elite also knew that most decisions will be made at the regional, provincial and central level. And this turned out to be the case when party tickets were awarded and parliamentary positions decided.

Reforms in Pakistan can not be introduced unless and until the educated middle class become full time participant in the politics of the country. The intra-party elections of PTI raised hopes that this dream could be materialized. But the experiment failed because those involved in managing it never wanted the rise of the middle class. PTI has largely become part of the status quo parties rather than a party of reform and change that people hoped it to be. PTI recently set up a committee to evaluate the intra-party elections. I am not sure what they can achieve but the party can not bring reforms to the country unless and until it becomes party of the middle, labor and farmer classes of the society. These sections of the society seem to be disenfranchised as there is no one there to represent their interests right now.

Politics require financial resources to fund election campaign to reach out to voters whether it is intra-party elections or general elections. There is only one way we can insure involvement of middle class in politics which is that people should financially support honest and capable candidates for party positions and general elections. The country belongs to the nation rather than a handful of elite class and this can only happen when we all work together for it.

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