The politics of forward blocks and defections is not new in Pakistan. Some political commentators and experts are giving the impression that politics of defection and forward blocks has come back. But matter of fact is that it never went away. Defections and forward blocks are integral part of Pakistani parliamentary politics.
The same political parties which lure opposition members to their fold while in power. But cry foul when face the same fate while sitting on opposition benches. It goes back to times of British Raj in Indian sub-continent. This tradition of changing political loyalty to make personal gains and to cling on to the power is as old as the parliamentary politics in both India and Pakistan. In 1947, Republican Party members in Punjab changed their political loyalty overnight and joined Muslim League when it becomes clear that Pakistan will become a reality soon and British will leave.
The politicians continued this bad tradition after the independence. The parties formed and disappeared overnight. The military dictators created defections in the political parties and forced the politicians to change loyalties to form their own king parties.
Both the military dictators and political governments used the defections and forward blocks in the rival political parties to weaken them. The defections and forward blocks did help the ruling parties to strengthen their parliamentary position in the assembly but in the long run it not only weakens the political parties and political culture but also the democratic process and democracy in general.
PPP has been the major victim of defections and forward blocks. From military dictatorship of General Zia in late 1970s and 1980s to General Musharaf from 1999 to 2007, PPP was the target. Many PPP leaders were forced to change the political loyalty. PML-N was also targeted during the Musharaf regime.
Both the PML-N and PML-Q used dirty tactics while in power to weaken the opposition parties. Both the parties faced the same fate after losing power. The PTI can learn from the past mistakes of the PML-Q and PML-N. Today, it might be beneficiary of politics of defections and forward blocks. But it might be a victim of same male practices once losing the power. But the lesson of history is that political parties hardly learn anything while in power.
It seems that PTI has learned nothing from the history of defections and forward blocks. So it seems that history will repeat itself. PTI government seems very keen to create defections and forward blocks within PML-N in Punjab and PPP in Sindh. Media reports regarding 15 PML-N members of the Punjab Assembly calling on Prime Minister Imran Khan a week ago gave rise to speculations of possible defections or formation of a ‘forward bloc’. Federal minister Ali Haider Zaidi claimed that the Sindh governor could replace the PPP government in Sindh with a PTI-led government within 48 hours of receiving the prime minister’s go-ahead as several PPP legislators were ready to switch sides.
Chief Minister Punjab’s spokesperson Dr. Shahbaz Gill said couple of days ago that between 40 to 50 members of Punjab assembly belonging to PML-N is ready to support PTI government in Punjab. Federal minster Railways Sheikh Rashid has made the similar claim. He said that several PML-N MNAs were also ready “with their joggers on” to support the PTI government.
It seems that PTI is going to do with PML-N what General Musharaf did from 1999 to 2002 and then PML-Q government in Punjab led by Ch. Pervaiz Elahi did from 2002 to 2007. They created defections and forced many politicians of both PML-N and PPP to change loyalty before and after the 2002 elections.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif did the same with PML-Q after the 2008 general elections. When PPP and PML-N coalition government fell apart then PML-N government relied on the support of PML-Q forward block.
PM Imran Khan always maintains that he is not interested in traditional power politics. But contrary to his past commitments, it seems that he is fully supporting the efforts of creating defections and forward block in PML-N. It is not really good signs for the political process and democracy. PTI government is doing the same as previous governments did in the past. Welcome to the traditional power politics.
All this indicates that some kind of defections from political parties opposed to the ruling party PTI at the centre and Punjab are being contemplated. The ruling party that depends on the support of its allied parties to maintain its majority and the government at the centre and in Punjab may fall prey to the temptation to lure opposition members to sustain it.
Opposition members may have their own reasons to revolt and support the government. Mostly, these reasons are not based on ideology or principles but on the politics of convenience. Many have used their position to enrich themselves, therefore, unable to withstand pressure from a government which is ready to pull all the stops. Accountability and corruption charges been used to pressurise the opposition members. NAB was used to create PML-Q as a king party during Musharaf regime. The governments used all sorts of tactics to change loyalties.
This male political practice must be stopped. It is a black spot on politicians and political process.
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