LAHORE-The history has led to a political landscape in which parties have come to represent the various fragmented interests within Pakistan, rather than distinct policy positions, says a research study on political parties conducted by Lahore University of Management Sciences in collaboration with The Asia Foundation. 

The launching ceremony of the research study which is a compendium of major political parties within the context of parliamentary politics, was held here on Wednesday at a local hotel in the presence representatives of various political parties.  Syed Fakhar Imam, Abida Hussain, Ahsan Iqbal and Raza Haroon were prominent on the occasion.  

The study brings out four major aspects of political parties; leadership, both charismatic and populist, electable heavy weights who bear the burden of election campaigns and carry vote banks in the territorial constituencies throughout the county, party ideologues who represent the conscious and the message of their respective organization and organize public meetings and finally, the institutional-constitutional structure of the parties which cast this shadow on the functioning of political parties.

According to the study, parties have developed to reflect and accommodate the various fissures in broader Pakistani society: religion; sectarianism; ethno-regionalism; and linguistic differences. Parties in contemporary Pakistan reflect these factors of ‘identity politics’, it further says.

The researchers-Muhammad Wasim and Mariam Mufti- believe that emphasis on identity politics and a lack of policy orientation has created a space within parties through which leadership has become a dominant factor in party identification. Essentially, and with few exceptions, this has led to ‘deification’ of party leaders, both as individuals and, in the longer term, as family dynasties.

The researchers have divided the history of the growth of Islamic parties in Pakistan into four phases: the first phase (1947-69), when they functioned as pressure groups for establishing Sharia; the second phase, when Islamic parties graduated into mass politics in the 1970 elections and managed to get 18 seats in the National Assembly; the third phase (1980s-90s), when these parties moved into the wider regional networking characterized by the Arabist shift in Islamic thought and practice and ideological and strategic engagement in Afghanistan; and the post-9!11phase that is characterized by the dominant influences of the previous phases reinforcing or cross-cutting one another, with an additional input of the Taliban-led terrorist activities and the rise of anti-Americanism.

On the left-wing politics, the research says that the leftist elements after the banning of the Pakistan Communist party in 1954 generally operated through the platform of larger parties such as the NAP and PPP, and lost their separate identity. Various small groups of worker parties represent the legacy of the left in contemporary Pakistan.

On inner party dynamics, the researchers have reached the conclusion that the most important single factor in the structural domain of political parties is the phenomenon of leadership. Being the founder-chairpersons of parties (Altaf Hussain, Nawaz Sharif, lmran Khan) or their offspring (Asfandyar Wali Khan, Akhtar Mengal, Pir Pagara and Mehmood Achakzai) or dynastic descendants (Asif Zardari), leaders carry a superordinate position vis-a-vis the power structure of their respective parties. While operating in a charismatic or populist mode, they comprehensively meet the public’s    need for party identification in the absence of ideological or policy orientations. This top heavy party structure, typically if not in every case, has the potential to inhibit organizational growth.

There is a centralized control over decision-making through the Central Executive / Working Committees on financial and administrative matters, while these committees are themselves selected by the chairpersons. The party office-holders are frequently public office-holders as well. That means a loss of oversight of the government from the panty leadership that makes the parliamentary party caucuses ineffective.

Personality-based structures, according to the report, have led to internal party differences being resolved not by policy-based accommodation, but by factionalization. Party factions break away and create additional parties led by individuals who were unable to find space within the existing party structures. Occasionally, these factions are able to collaborate in party coalitions, while retaining a separate identity of their own.

The dominance of identity politics and the fragmentation of parties around individual personalities have led to the emergence of a very large number of parties, many of which are unable to realize any credible level of electoral representation. Speaking on the occasion, Prof Mohammad Waseem, the researcher, said that he had focused on the party as a dynamic political entity rather than a passive identity and institution and as a realistic political player rather than one of the many electoral contestants.