February Issue 2008
Winning is Everything
The Election Commission blew its whistle and the lotas sprung into action. All it took was the slightest push from party leaders — a rejected ticket from a provincial bigwig here, the temptation of a safe seat there — for the lotas to jump ship. Apart from the lotas, as soon as the political parties were given the green light, their high commands were a beehive of activity. After all, there were favours to be given out, revenge to be taken and backroom deals to be negotiated. Soon after, the lotas came out with acknowledgements of their whimsical loyalties.
Although not technically a lota, the biggest betrayal of the year, without a doubt, came from the leader of the alliance that goes by the book: Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Rumours had started swirling earlier in the year of his flirting with the idea of premiership, and when the time came he abandoned his erstwhile MMA allies.
Nawaz Sharif, for that matter, is just as guilty of betrayal. After launching the All Parties Democratic Movement in London with gung-ho passion last year, Nawaz got weak in the knees when he realised that theirs was a lost cause. He justified his decision to hop on to the election brigade, saying, “Any partial boycott would be disastrous for the opposition.”
All that aside, Nawaz, upon entering the election race, announced in a fit of righteousness that he would bar political turncoats from joining the PML-N. Soon after, Nawaz accommodated over a dozen defectors, including the former MMA parliamentarian Hanif Abbasi, former law and privatisation minister Zahid Hamid, former Punjab MPA Sardar Mohammad Ali and PPP leaders Mian Mohammad Rafiq, Rai Mansab Ali and Saifullah Cheema.
At the same time, accusations were hurled at the N-League of accepting hefty sums of money in return for distributing party tickets to defectors. PML-N’s Multan district secretary-general Babu Nafees Ahmed Ansari claimed that the party had awarded tickets for PP-195 and PP-196 to candidates who had not even formally joined the PML-N. He further alleged that the party sold his ticket for PP-195 to Amir Saeed Ansari for Rs3.5 million, while the PP-196 ticket was awarded to Chaudhry Abdul Waheed Arain for Rs4 million, depriving PML-N leader Mujahid Malik Bhutta of a ticket.
Most of the defections in the run-up to the general elections of 2008 took place when aspiring candidates failed to find succour in their party. Chaudhrys Shujaat Hussain and Pervaiz Elahi of the PML-Q must have furrowed their brows in unease as their party suffered the greatest net loss of party members.
Insiders reveal that Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the former Punjab chief minister and president of the Q-League (Punjab chapter), has caused quite a few defections from his party by accommodating his lackeys. For one, his preference for Ashiq Khan Gopang cost the party former MPA Syed Qaim Ali Shamsi, who still insists that he had refused the party ticket himself after his decision to run for election independently. But his grievances against the party leadership, made public in one instance, suggest a story of betrayal. Similarly, Lt-Gen (retd.) Majeed Malik of the PML-Q joined the Nawaz-League when his son-in-law Maj (retd.) Tahir Iqbal was refused a ticket in Chakwal for a constituency Elahi wanted to save for his own candidate.
But it was Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi’s niece, Eman Waseem, who became the biggest headache for the PML-Q. After leaving the NA-59 constituency for her husband, Chaudhry Waseem Gulzar, Eman decided to contest NA-57 as an independent candidate against PML-Q’s Malik Amin Aslam. The party leadership dared not offend the Chaudhrys and silently bade goodbye to another of the party nominees.
Divisions in the PML-Q camp became more apparent with the public displeasure voiced by party activists against the Chaudhrys for going out of their way to welcome and accommodate turncoats into the party. Chaudhry Nauraiz Shakoor Khan and Rana Aftab Ahmed Khan had joined the PML-Q in search of better political prospects after quitting the PPP. They could hardly have predicted the hostile reception given to them by Q-League leaders, 15 of whom vowed to pitch Syed Imtiaz Shah opposite the turncoats in the same constituencies.
Then there were those who didn’t even need to be snubbed. Opportunism got the better of them and dictated that they join the parties that offered them the most lucrative deal. Former state minister Rana Nazir Ahmad and his son, the former federal parliamentary secretary Rana Umer Nazir, announced their defection from the Q-League to the PML-N, after which several union council nazims in Gujranwala district, along with Mian Mazhar Javed, his brother Mian Tariq Javed and Dr Ghulam Sarwar, turned their backs on the king’s party. The PML-Q also lost major support in Sindh when the senior vice-president of the Jamshoro chapter, Pir Khurshid Ahmed, joined the PPP, along with his brother Pir Shafique Ahmed, Ghulam Hussain Lashari, Ghulam Rasool Dayoo, Najam Sehto, Syed Bachal Shah, Wadero Abdul Jalil Rahpoto, Wadero Meenhon Rahpoto, Hayat Jalbani and Haji Haroon. Jamshed Dasti resigned as union council nazim to fly down to Karachi to welcome to the late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto on October 18, while Dr Abul Hasan Ansari switched over to the PML-N after a month-long stint with the PPP.
But most worthy of mention are those who specialise in defection. Muhammad Moeenuddin Qureshi, who was elected as an MPA courtesy the PPP in 2002, broke his allegiance to the party in favour of the PML-Q and is now scrambling to win over either the PML-N or the PPP leadership — whichever will take him. Former MNA from the PML-Q Sardar Faiz Tamman has quite a notorious reputation as a turncoat. His 2002 defection from the PPP to the breakaway Patriots had brought his uncle Mumtaz Tamman down to his proverbial knees to apologise for his nephew’s treachery. This time around, his fickle politicking nature has brought him face-to-face with Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who he will be contesting on a PML-N ticket in the NA-61 constituency.
In the run-up to the elections, these changing loyalties are painting a somewhat uncertain picture of the election. The only certainty is that once the election results are announced, there will be an even greater jockeying for power, as fickle politicians come closer to tasting power.