Imran Khan’s ‘turncoat’ and ‘corrupt’ cabinet contradicts his political ideology
Islamabad: Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) won last year’s General Elections in Pakistan after influential leaders from rival parties defected to PTI at the 11th hour. While observers suggested that this was a part of the military establishment’s ‘political engineering’ which is designed to bring the PTI to power at the expense of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), for many loyal followers of Khan and his party this was in stark contrast to the PTI’s manifesto.
As it turned out, PTI’s win would’ve been impossible without the 46 political heavyweights touted as ‘electables’, cumulatively contributing 4.28 million votes to the party’s total of 16.85 million votes last year. Among the ‘turncoats’ that proved to be the most significant differential were the ‘electables’ from South Punjab who left the PML-N for PTI on the brink of the elections, eventually helping Imran Khan’s party form the government at the Centre and Punjab.
PTI insiders said that the decision to give tickets to these electables was made by Imran Khan, given his belief that without such influencers it was hard to gain a majority in the national or provincial parliaments.
“When we decided to opt-out of giving tickets to the electables in 2013, everyone criticised us saying that how will PTI win any elections without political experience, and now that we’ve gone for those with the election-winning experience, we are being criticised for giving tickets to the electables,” said senior PTI leader Ejaz Chaudhry, the party’s former Punjab president.
Chaudhry maintained that Imran Khan and the PTI are working on creating a Pakistan where electables would no longer be mandatory to win elections.
Imran Khan’s change, a farce: Former PTI member
While that has been the party’s claim since winning the general election last July, observers noted that Khan’s decision-making had suggested otherwise.
12 of the 21 members of the Prime Minister’s first cabinet, formulated in August previous year, had served under the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf. Five others had served under the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) rule.
For many of the party loyalists, this was not the ‘change’ that Imran Khan had promised them.
“There is one thing using electables to win the elections, and another thing putting the same old people in important positions. If Imran Khan was going to stuff his cabinet with the same people that he had been condemning for decades, then clearly his change is a farce,” said PTI’s former member Naghmana Shahid, who worked as the party’s president in Isakhel.
While Khan’s original cabinet had been criticised by the PTI purists and opposition parties, his cabinet reshuffle in April drew mass condemnation.
Removal of Asad Umar lost the trust of voters: Experts
Amidst the growing economic crisis in the country, and following the insistence of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Khan decided to remove Asad Umar as the Finance Minister. He was replaced by Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, as the PM’s Advisor on Finance. Shaikh had served as the Finance Minister under the PPP government, prompting Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to mock Khan’s decision in a National Assembly address.
“Imran Khan’s cabinet is virtually the same as the one that Yusuf Raza Gillani had during the PPP rule. The cabinet reshuffle denotes that the ruling party has conceded flaws in its policies,” said political analyst Farrukh Saleem, the PTI government’s former Advisor on Energy and Finance.
While almost the entire cabinet had come under scrutiny for contradicting Imran Khan’s claims of ‘change’ and ‘accountability’, Asad Umar’s removal is especially being seen as a major setback for the PTI.
Experts maintain that the PTI was always going to be judged on its economic policies and results, and given that Khan has long peddled Umar as the solution to Pakistan’s financial woes, his departure within the first nine months of the incumbent government’s rule will see the PTI lose the trust of many of its voters.
“[Asad Umar’s removal] wasn’t a popular decision in the PTI, but maybe the [economic] conditions were such that it was necessary. The Prime Minister would know best,” says Fawad Chaudhry, the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, who was removed as the Information Minister as part of the cabinet reshuffle. Chaudhry has previously served in both the PPP and Musharraf rule.
Pak moving towards a dictatorial system of governance?
In addition to Imran Khan’s departure from his political ideology, observers have also taken note of the growing rhetoric in favour of the introduction of the presidential system in Pakistan. This is reflected in the recent manifestation of scepticism on the part of the government vis-à-vis the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees the federation and provincial autonomy in Pakistan. The 18th Amendment brought an end to presidential powers while giving more fiscal power to provinces and the removal of the concurrent legislative list from the constitution. On May 24, the Federal Ministry of National Health Services notified that the three major hospitals in Karachi had been returned to the Centre. This has attracted criticism from the ruling PPP government in the province, while PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has termed it as an attack on provincial autonomy. The Imran Khan-led PTI has on multiple times denied these claims while asking the PPP to stop spreading misinformation.
For many, Imran Khan’s cabinet reshuffle reflects an inclination towards autocracy. Not only does the cabinet feature more advisors in place of elected ministers, the choice of new Interior Minister, retired Brigadier Ijaz Shah, is also seen as further evidence that the PTI is the military establishment’s bid to undermine civilian supremacy.
However, the opposition parties remain confident that collectively they will resist any attempts to damage democracy in Pakistan. “In fact, the opposition won’t have to do anything to counter the PTI government. Given the shape and performance of Imran Khan’s cabinet, we are confident that the government will self-implode,” said PML-N spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb.
[The author is an Islamabad-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters]