Will Imran Khan reset the two-party system?
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf rallied at Lahore’s Charing Cross on Sunday evening—despite the Punjab government’s earlier vows to roadblock it because of apparent security threats. PTI says the antigovernment, anticorruption rally was 100,000-strong; the ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), put the number closer to 25,000. The gathering wasn’t unimpressive.
Imran Khan, the PTI chief, was his usual impassioned self. He asked “corrupt” Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign in the wake of the Panama Papers exposé or risk a popular movement that would literally reach his doorstep, at Sharif’s estate in Raiwind. The PMLN response was equally familiar. It accused Khan of destabilizing democracy, overlooking the “corruption” of his own comrades, gambling with charity money, and being in cahoots with “Zionists.”
The PTI gained in the 2013 general elections at the expense of the Pakistan Peoples Party in the Punjab and the Awami National Party in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The PMLN also boosted its share of the popular vote from 23 percent of the total in 2008 to 33 percent of the total in 2013. Khan is applying street power now in the Punjab to offset this PMLN gain. He knows the 2018 general elections may be a bridge too far for his party. The ambitioned midterm toppling of Sharif serves the purpose of quashing intra-PTI differences and galvanizing donors big and small by compelling them to see the rise of the party at the PMLN’s expense.
Is the PPP dying and the PTI taking its place to reset the bipartisan system in the country? Are we going to transition from a family-owned party to a one-man cult party, like the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is currently falling apart because of the decline of its leader? Family-run parties are on the wane in South Asia. India’s Congress party is on its last legs, while the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party looks more and more “normal.” Does that mean India returns to a one-party system surrounded by scores of minnow parties, as in the past when Congress ruled the roost? In Pakistan, the “normal” big party, neither cult- nor family-ruled, is yet to be born.