What the PML-N got wrong

  • In the last eight months or so, the PML-N has done pretty much everything a party can do in an election year. They have dug up every road in Punjab, raised concerns about problems in other provinces and have even recruited avidly to beef up their party ranks.

    Effectively, they have prepared well for the upcoming elections. And even though the tsunami is coming for them, they are still focused on the real competitor. One would say that they are ready to go to the polls and seize power. However, all is not what it seems to be – my personal belief is that the PML-N will lose the national elections again. Here are my reasons:

    Inability to evolve

    In a country that is obsessed with the word ‘change’, it does pay off to be the consistent one. While people harp on about change, a large majority likes things the way are; not because they are fair, but because they understand how things get done within the current scenario. So while there is always this urge to change everything, majority of the people are content with the way things are and only wish for a few tweaks here and there.

    In such a situation, one would imagine that a party like the PML-N would thrive by making small changes to make life easier for people. But that is the whole issue; change and evolution is not the same thing. The PML-N, instead of evolving over time into a mature party, is still trying to get on the bandwagon of ‘change’.

    The problem with that is that one cannot be in a provincial government and harp on about change – that is effectively an oxymoron. What you can do instead is focus on better governance, and that’s exactly what the PML-N hasn’t done in the past four-and-a-half years. While people claim that Bhutto-ism or the tsunami will defeat the PML-N, they are all wrong; the PML-N will defeat itself.

    No media strategy

    Apparently Senator Pervaiz Rasheed is heading some sort of media strategy for the PML-N. However, no one seems to have seen that in action. The PML-N often cries that when the party does something, they never get credit for it; that’s because the message never really gets out.

    Compare this to the PTI. Even though I do not agree with their views, there is no doubt that it is brilliantly efficient at getting its message across. People identify the word ‘Insaf’ with them when it is used in any context. That is the power of excellent media management and strategy.

    The PML-N, on the other hand, wastes money and hopes that things will work out. So while Senator Pervaiz Rasheed is doing ‘excellent’ work for the PML-N, the party is slowly dying a very public media death.

    No message

    Does anyone, including Mian Sahib, know what the message of the PML-N is? What exactly are they going to fix when they come into power?

    The economy is in crisis, there is a food shortage expected to last the next two years and we are expecting floods in August. What is the PML-N going to do about that? What is anyone else going to do to if they come into power?

    Saying “we shall end corruption” does not cut it, because politically speaking, a certain level of corruption exists in every system as it is endemic.

    This question is in no way limited to the PML-N; this is a real question for all parties including the PPP and the PTI.

    Since we have taken huge loans, our budget is constructed in accordance with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank; so no party can make massive changes to it as there is no money.

    I wonder what the PML-N’s message is. It’s been four years and all I have heard is complaints about what the PPP does wrong, while presenting nothing as an alternative.

    Below par leadership

    The PML-N will lose out because of the leadership. It’s not Mian Sahib who is the problem; it is others like Chaudhry Nisar whose words and actions contradict each other. Another is Senator Pervaiz Rasheed who effectively blocks any decent idea from being carried forward. Amir Muqam is also one who has an impeccable record of not doing anything.

    With such a cadre of leaders, how can one win? It’s like the PML-N has spent the last eight months trying to make sure that the public face of the party is disliked, if not hated.

    Bad advisors

    This is a problem with most political parties, but with with the PML-N it’s more serious. It is a well known fact that both the Sharif brothers adhere strictly to the words of their advisors; whatever is fed to them is what they start believing eventually.

    The current mix of advisors are more interested in personal benefits than the long run sustainability of the party. It is due to this narrow-mindedness that the party lacks a crop of young leadership that could take over the in the future. The cherry on this cake of errors is that most of these advisers who are given the task of advising a political party and its leaders are not even elected members. They are people who have no long term stakes in the well-being of the political party.

    A few months ago, Ayaz Amir wrote an effective obituary of the PTI in his column. At that time people said he had jumped the gun, while many agreed with him. If he were to look at the PML-N now, that obituary would fit like a glove.

    The PML-N is a party that does not need enemies; they are their own worst enemies. All these reasons have always existed – the PTI’s emergence has merely highlighted them.

    So while Mian Sahib tells Pakistan why the prime minister is wrong, what he doesn’t understand is that his party should be the last to talk about right and wrong. His own members are destroying his party and he hasn’t been able to see it in four years.

    One wonders how a leader will run the country when he can’t manage even his own party.

    Read more by Adnan here, or follow him on Twitter @adnanrasool


  • Starry-eyed idealism no more

    It was a crisp morning in Lahore, on the day before Halloween, last year. Political pundits had made their predictions, and partisan hacks had made their speculations. Everyone, with their gaze towards the Minar-e-Pakistan and abated breath, waited to find out if the day would mark the end of Imran Khan’s promise, or witness the birth of a new political force.

    And then it happened: they came in groups of tens and twenties and hundreds – on donkey-carts and Land-Cruisers, from affluent living-rooms as well as dusty fields, some bare-footed and others in Prada shoes – till the swell of humanity became the PTI ‘tsunami’. They waited patiently and danced for hours in anticipation of one person alone: imran Khan. There was no Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Javed Hashmi, Khurshid Kasuri or Shafqat Mehmood on the stage. in fact, this ‘tsunami’ had gathered to celebrate the antithesis of what these individuals stood for. The moment was a fracture in the fabric of our political history, and marked the inception of a new hope.

    But somewhere along the past six months, we have witnessed a tempering of this hope and a dilution of the idealism that enveloped Minar-e-Pakistan that October night. And it is only pertinent to ask why?

    Let’s start with the basics: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf is defined more by what it is not, rather than what it is. if one were to stop a person in the street (whether or not such person supports Imran Khan) and ask what PTI stands for, the answer would most likely not entail a discourse on PTI’s education policy, or justice sector reform, or economic expansion plan. The answer, in all likelihood would be some version of ‘everyone else is a ‘chor’ (thief) while Imran Khan is not!’ And in this way, PTI is defined by what it is not: it is not PML(N) or PPP; other party leaders are corrupt whereas Imran Khan is not; members of other political parties hide their assets and evade taxes whereas PTI members do not; other parties frequently settle on their principles (‘mukmuka’) whereas PTI does not. This forms PTI’s identity and appeal among the disillusioned voters, disappointed by decades of bad governance, who can now turn to a party that is all the things that others are not.

    But this definition receives a fatal blow when in every jalsa (after Lahore), we find Imran Khan flanked by faces that he promised he was ‘not’! To cushion the blow, PTI members would explain that these individuals have been ‘reformed’ and that politics necessitates certain manoeuvring for survival. Don’t look now, but these are all the argumentsthat have previously been presented by parties that PTI says it is not.

    Imran Khan’s defence for including certain (less than ideal) individuals in his party is that regardless of who joins the party, at the time of awarding of tickets, PTI will only pick the best and the brightest. Well, let’s for a second assume that Imran Khan will be able to withstand the insurmountable pressure of awarding tickets to certain (compromised) heavyweights in PTI, does this mean that such individuals (some belonging to Lahore’s land mafia, some who have faithfully served dictators, others who have a record of financial irregularities) will have no influence – none – in any government that PTI forms? Even without tickets, will they not find a place as members of task-forces and inspection committees? Will certain individuals, who have donated crores of rupees to the party or have been dancing to its tune, be miraculously ignored one fine day? Khan Sb, we really want to believe you on this, but let’s be realistic!

    Furthermore, coming into the home-stretch before national elections, Imran Khan faces the immediate problems of gelling together the old and new guard of PTI. Despite smiling faces on the camera, there are hushed murmurs of discontentment among the old party loyalists who suddenly find that a new breed of (expedient) politicians have been inducted into the party over their heads. Imran Khan’s defence, in this regard, is that the party will hold internal elections and choose its leadership. This is virtuous and democratic (another aspect where PTI is not what others are – a dynastic party). But, with due respect, the holding of party-elections does not correct the wrong. The truth remains that in order to ‘attract’ political bigwigs, the party has ‘wronged’ its loyalists and sacrificed idealism at the altar of expediency. While this is a consistent practice in other political parties, it was hoped that PTI would be different and shall prefer principles over personalities. And to deepen the issue, if (in all likelihood) the new political heavyweights bulldoze through the party elections, the legacy of Imran’s party and its stance on scruples will be at the mercy of the very individuals against whom PTI’s workers have struggled for fifteen years.

    Khan saab – the enduring image, etched in our national memory, is your last bowl to Illingworth in 1992, after which you raised your arms in victory as a teary-eyed Pakistan fixed its gaze on you in pride. My generation – today’s youth, which is your political base – was raised on the legend of the uncompromising and principled Imran Khan. And that ideal led us all to Minar-e-Pakistan in October. Politics, they say, has no relation to morals so this is perhaps bad political advice: but the idealist in me would rather see an honest and uncompromising Imran Khan in the opposition, than an expedient and unscrupulous Imran in power.