LAHORE - Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Sirajul Haq took over as 5th amir of the Jamaat-i-Islami after being administered oath of office by the outgoing party chief, Syed Munawar Hasan, a Karachiite.
Commentators have rightly pointed out that this is the first time in the Jamaat’s history that a sitting amir was voted out.
Munawar Hasan had expressed his inability to stay in office for another term because of health reasons, but the party Shoora, which is the party’s highest decision-making body and which also proposes a panel of candidates the voting members are required to choose from, did not exclude his name. (In the Jamaat, nobody can propose himself as a candidate, and the members are also allowed to vote for anyone they like, even if he is not on the panel proposed by the Shoora).
While the performance of the new party chief will be seen in times ahead, his election should be a model for other ‘democrats’ who have reduced their parties to family fiefdoms. All important offices are held by family members or friends – and there’s little chance of any change at the top level in the foreseeable future, no matter how competent and senior other members may be.
The only other party which is expected to practise democracy in the electoral process is the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf. Chairman Imran Khan has declared in categorical terms that he would not hold the top office for more than two terms. This means anybody qualified for the job would be able to contest the election of the party chairman after the cricketer-turned-politician vacates it.
But the situation in other ‘democratic’ parties in not enviable at all.
Take the example of the PML-N. Ever since its inception in the 90s, the party is being headed by Mian Nawaz Sharif. And in case, God forbid, he ever decided to step down, some other family member will replace him.
The party passed through a difficult phase after the overthrow of the PML-N government in 1999 and the conviction of Mr Sharif in the plane hijacking case.
Senior leader Raja Zafarul Haq was asked to lead the party for a while. But within no time the control was handed over to Begum Kulsoom Nawaz. A housewife until then, she played an important role in keeping the party active till the family was allowed to go into exile in Saudi Arabia under an agreement.
In the kingdom, Shahbaz Sharif was made the party president as being a ‘convict’ then Nawaz Sharif was not constitutionally and legally qualified to stay in the driving seat. In Pakistan, Makhdoom Javed Hashmi was appointed as the acting president since being a ‘fighter’ he was in a better position to keep the party alive in the absence of its ‘real’ owners.
The reins of the party went back to the Sharifs after their return to Pakistan in 2007.
Mian Nawaz Sharif continues to be the central president and his brother Shahbaz Sharif the Punjab chief. Son-in-law Capt Safdar headed the youth wing for quite some time.
The PML-N witnessed a split during the Musharraf era when a large number of party leaders launched a parallel faction called PML-Q.
Former Punjab governor Mian Azhar headed the party for some time. However, when he was defeated on both the National Assembly seats he was contesting in 2002 elections, he came under immense pressure to step down. Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain replaced him as the party president – and retains the office even today. His cousin Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi continues to be the provincial president since then.
There is no possibility of the leadership slipping out of the family even if the party vanishes.
The situation in the Pakistan People’s Party is no different.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto led it till he was incarcerated after the overthrow of his government in 1977. Begum Nusrat Bhutto headed the party in the absence of her spouse.
Then came a time when Nusrat Bhutto was the chairperson and Benazir Bhutto the co-chairperson. After some more time, Benazir Bhutto became the chairperson, relieving her mother of the party responsibilities. “There is no kinship in kingship,” The Daughter of The East effectively established.
The PPP remains a family fiefdom even after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. Sanam Bhutto, the London-based sister of Benazir Bhutto, is not interested in taking part in politics or heading the PPP.
This left the field open for the Zardaris. Mr Asif Ali Zardari has been calling the shots since then. During 2008-13 when being the president of Pakistan he was not constitutionally qualified to hold any party office, he gave all powers to his son – Bilawal – who was too young even to contest the election. Now, ground is being prepared to elevate Bilawal to the office of the party chairman.
The women wing is being headed by Faryal Talpur, the sister of Mr Zardari and aunt of Bilawal.
The rival PPP-Shaheed Bhutto group is headed by Mir Murtaza Bhutto’s widow – Ghinwa. She has been leading the group ever since its establishment in the 90s. And there is no chance of any change of leadership even in the distant future. If Fatima or Zulfikar Junior (the daughter and son of Murtaza Bhutto and Ghinwa) ever showed interest in politics, the leadership could be transferred to them. But, so far, both of them are not interested in joining politics.
The leadership of the Awami National Party remains with the family of Khan Abdul Wali Khan. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement will work under the leadership of Altaf Hussain as long as he is there.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Maulana Samiul Haq have been leading their respective factions of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam for decades and there is no possibility of them stepping aside in their lifetime.
Leaders who don’t practise democracy even in their parties cannot be expected to give the country an ideal democratic system, notwithstanding their tall claims to the contrary.