One man show and question of internal party democracy

 Pakistani political parties lacks internal democracy and accountability of leadership

The sudden decision to dissolve the party organisation and structures by party chairman and PM Imran Khan has once again raised the important question of internal party democracy and institutionalisation of decision making within political parties.

An important decision of dissolving the whole party structure was taken without convening the meeting of Central Executive, Central Committee or General Council of the party. And next morning, the party chairman appointed Secretary General and four provincial presidents through nominations.

This whole exercise of first dissolving the party organization and then appointing new office bearers by party chairman tells us volume about the internal party democracy and collective decision making.  

This decision also shows that how undemocratic the process of decision making is in the party. It shows that party chairman can dismiss the whole party structure with one stroke of the pen.

The party chairman is more powerful than the rest of the party organization. The party leadership didn’t bother to call even a symbolic meeting of Central committee or General Council to take this decision. 

It is going to be an interesting exercise to find out real difference in the working of dynastic parties and the party of change “PTI”. Imran Khan has been the chairman of the PTI since 1996 when party was formed.  He never relinquish his position in the party for a while.

Prime Minister Imran Khan was used to criticize the PPP and PML-N leaders for running the party like a family enterprise but what is happening in last few days within PTI is no way different then the PPP and PML-N.

In PTI initially, Prime Minister Imran Khan was ambitious to hold party elections through a true democratic process, but later he too was convinced by some forces within the party that these ‘things’ were irrelevant and ‘ready-made’ options were available.

After organising just one internal election in the PTI, party chairman Imran khan resort to nominations like other mainstream parties. Prime Minister Imran khan is running the party like Mian Nawaz Sharif leads PML-N.

It is often believed that a country cannot have true democracy until political parties are internally democratic; however, political scientists in turn argue that political parties can only be democratic when there is true and uninterrupted democracy in a country.

Political parties of Pakistan are neither internally democratic nor able to take democratic decisions independently. The parties blindly follow the leaders without any concept of accountability.    

All matters should be discussed in the party’s Central Executive Committee, and the committee should only make decisions after detailed discussions. The decisions taken by this committee must be endorsed, and no single authority should have the power to reverse it.

These types of decisions weakened party’s internal democracy also along with democracy in the country. The parties have become subservient to the party leaders, and there is no democratic process of decision making. The ‘leaders’ have the powers to veto the decisions made by the highest forums of the party after due diligence.  

One of the reasons for weak political parties is personality-based politics; certain families rule the parties and are glorified for presenting ‘sacrifices’ for a political cause. Political parties need to change the internal culture and serve as institutions and conduct policy research via think tanks. 

It is true that party leaders in our country think the vote bank belongs to them and the party would collapse without them. They behave like gods. They never bother to consult the party activists and local office bearers on important decisions and issues.

 The continuity of democratic process is also vital for strengthening political parties and ultimately the Parliament. He added that due to the weaknesses of party heads who want more powers to protect themselves from accountability,

The decision making in political parties should flow from the bottom to the top to truly represent the will of the workers. Additionally, political parties need to be institutionalised with a working think tank and grasp on policymaking to tackle upcoming challenges.

Political parties in Pakistan run by ‘the leader’ of the party. Parties are like one man show. Political parties revolve around charismatic, popular and individual leaders. The leaders are not interested in developing the party institutions. 

The leaders want to keep tight control over the parties. They hardly tolerate dissent. The party leader makes all the important decisions and the rest of the party follow the decisions.

The internal party election is an essential mode to observe internal democracy in a political party and a gateway to promote ordinary members from bottom to top in leadership position. Intra-party democracy played key role in the production of new leadership from the grass-roots level. The intra-party democracy is significant for the stability of a political system.

It also engaged the party members to defend and explain the party policies in the right way. Hence, intra-party democracy provides a leading role to all registered members to participate directly or indirectly in the process of decision making.

 In Pakistan, political parties and national politics revolve around personalities and some monastic families. Even mainstream political parties of Pakistan avoided intra-party elections and leading leadership comes from the top through direct nomination. In this way all the portfolios within the parties are conformed.

In practice the grass-roots members of political parties are ignored in all crucial decisions making within the party. PTI is no different. PTI lacks the internal democracy and involvement of rank and file members in decision making like the other parties. A small circle of leaders and close aides took part in the consultation and rest of the party kept in dark.

                                                                     Khalid Bhatti


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