Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Strengthening Political Parties

Strengthening Political Parties.


Akhtar Ali.


Why does military takes over power so swiftly and comfortably without any meaningful resistance during and after the process of the takeover. Prime ministers are put behind bars and sent to gallows through manipulating the judicial process. Military rule is legitimized by referendums and judicial validations. The usurper is given powers to amend the constitution.

One of the many reasons is the weaker base of political parties in terms of membership cadre and organization. Except for  Pakistan Peoples Party which has a large political base, most other parties have a weaker political base. Parties are dominated by individuals and the families. The electoral process also throws up entrenched wealthy individuals, strengthening status qou and thwarting social and political change.

In most parties there is a narrow core of formal members, around which is  a large number of  political supporters. Ironically political parties’ leadership are reported to be even discouraging local cadre in launching membership campaigns, perhaps in vain attempt to maintain control of the party or entrenched groups or perhaps  thwarting organized  take over.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has a large popular support entrenched by a large number of workers. Successive victimization and eventual murder of Bhutto family has largely been responsible for legitimizing the party control  by the Bhutto family.

There are some small exceptions. Jamaat –I –Islami is an Islamic ideological party which manages  to gather support from far and wide parts of the country. This party also has narrow strenghth of formal members due to it’s doctrine of making the “ Muttaqi”(pious)  only.the core of the ‘ Muttaqis’ is surrounded by  most of it’s informal members which it calls ‘Muttafiq’(agreed). However the party is well organized and is quite capable of organizing resistance  movements.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement(MQM) is the third largest party in terms of membership in the national assembly. It has a lrge and active membership and leadership coming from lower party cadre.How ever due to it’s initial ethnic basis, located in Karachi and other Sindh’s urban areas mostly, it’s effectiveness at Pakistan level remains wanting.

Other parties like the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) , Pakistan Muslim League(Q), Tehrike Insaaf( Imran Khan’s party) are tightly controlled by wealthy individuals like Mr. Nawaz Sharif, Chaudry Shujaat Hussain and Imran Khan. In all these parties a total of less than 100 individuals control .The wealth of these  individuals is largely their source of strength. Although participation in the long political process spread over more than two decades is also the part of their political capital.

Ironically there is a typical trend to political induction of party leadership .An aspiring and  ambitious politician is first discovered and  coopted by the military rulers.

Military rule gets legitimacy and wider political base through such inductions and the individual power, pelf and wealth increases by various transfers and  favors made for such cooptees. Typically and eventually, the fate of military dictator goes down after having ruled for an average period of a decade.

Dichotomy and contradictions develop amongst the political and military leaders and the cooptee joins the opposition and democratic forces suffer for a period  in the form of jail or exile  and is thus legitimized and becomes a bonafide political leader . .


ZA Bhutto was hanged among unexplainable silence of the masses and supporters and Nawaz Sharif was jailed and exiled  with comfortable ease by the two respective military dictators. Both the PPP , PML- N , more so the latter, have suffered due to the lack of an organized  large political cadre as is found in most democracies of the world. PML-N should not be afraid of new membership. They should shun their fear and skepticism of the people and masses  . A shift towards middle class power may not be able to unseat the top leadership in the short run, which is what matters for political control. In the long run, it would reward them with strength , appeal and vitality. While top leadership and it’s continuity maybe indispensable for most parties, there is no justification of monopoly    of landed aristrocracy over the political party. Tickets for assembly memberships are awarded   based on district power base which largely comes from land power. Overall party  finances also come from this core group.

If political parties are provided public funding (government financial support), the influence of this typical core group would be gradually and partly replaced by new forces from middle classes.

In most democratic countries of the world especially in South America and Europe such funding is common. Normally such funds are given on the basis of votes caste in the elections; about 10 Euros per vote on the average, as straight transfers to political parties’ central funds.

In Pakistan such support maybe differentiated and targeted to encourage reforms in the political parties. Following criteria and targets maybe kept in view:

  1. Number of voters
  2. Number of workers.
  3. Direct financial support to eligible candidates for assembly seats.
  4. In kind support such as allotment of urban plots and rural land for political parties, to generate income sources and build party offices, meeting halls, libraries etc.

Political parties fund maybe created to be managed by eminent persons, administrative persons and financed by the following:

    1. Federal and provincial government budget.
    2. Levy on media and advertising.
    3. Funding from multilateral and bilateral donors, countries and organisations.

A fund of Rs. 1.00 billion (seed fund) should be initially created and should be feasible.

This fund would go a long way towards building strong and organized political party system in the country and fostering new entrants representing a diverse social base

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