A Tale of Turncoats

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A Tale of Turncoats


Changing allegiances has long been part of Pakistan’s politics and politicians of South Punjab are masters of this game

The winds of changing loyalties have started blowing again in Pakistan. As in the past, before general elections in the country, a whole spate of entrenched power-brokers, comprising feudal lords, tribal chiefs, clan elders and ‘spiritual leaders’ have been switching parties to join hands with other political parties  they see on the rise, so that they can secure themselves a place in the corridors of powers. Among these are several political turncoats of the past, but evident also are some newer entrants to the political arena, quickly learning the business of politics as it plays out in the ‘Land of the Pure.’

South [Punjab] is rich, and those entering the world of politics from the area are usually trained  by their respective gurus  in the art of wheeling and dealing before entering the fray,  and conduct their political journey with their ‘Masters’ blessings and guidance.  These politicians from South Punjab are known as ‘electables,’ and they hold about a quarter of Punjab’s 141 seats — of the total of 272 — in the National Assembly of Pakistan, in addition to 33 reserved seats in the Upper House of Parliament, making the Punjab the key election battleground in the country.

After the 2002 general elections, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid-e-Azam (PML-Q) and the National Alliance had a combined total of 25 members from South Punjab in the National Assembly. In 2008, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) welcomed these traditional power-brokers and formed the federal government with the support of 22 MNAs from this part of the province. Similarly, in 2013, out of the 46 MNAs from South Punjab, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) had 35 [MNAs] supporting it to form the central government. Of these, less than a dozen had an unblemished past, with the rest  habitually changing their political loyalties.

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) proved no different to its rival traditional political parties. It embraced over 30 ‘electables’ q [MNAs] to form the federal government in 2018.

These electables, wooed by all the political parties and major contenders for power, comprise members of different aristocratic families from the rural parts of Punjab, inter-generationally entrenched in the very fabric of the land due to centuries’ old rigid social, tribal or religious traditions. They are key to every political party’s strategy for winning the general elections.


And it is these electables who are the political turncoats that have unabashedly changed their loyalties through generations, and are now doing so by ditching the ruling PTI they see as a losing proposition. They are now scrambling to join other parties, including the PPP, PML-N, JUI (F), ANP now readying themselves to form the federal government after the fall of Prime Minister Imran Khan.

The influence of these powerful dynastic families has always been considered a symbol of the country’s venal political system by every political party. Yet, all those competing for power recognise how much they need them if they want to form the government.

For the last decade or so, these power-brokers have been pushing for the creation of a new province in the Punjab. This has been one of their repeated demands from incoming governments since the 2013 elections. Now the same demand is being floated to the joint opposition.

Critics view the Punjab’s staple crop of electables as opportunists, who unashamedly switch allegiances  to maintain access to resources. Political analyst Salman Abid told Bol News that the politics of South Punjab has always been linked to the power centre. “These influential figures have always been used by the establishment, and they will always stand by the ruling party.” According to Abid, although the politicians of South Punjab enjoy perks and privileges just by virtue of their respective, often powerful families,  joining  political parties ensures them victory in elections. However, he added, the loyalties of such politicians have always been with those at the helm in the country’s power corridors, rather than with any political party.

In which direction the wind is blowing can usually be gauged from the politics of South Punjab, said Abid,  adding that politicians from this area blackmail not only the political parties, but also the establishment. “This happens in almost every election,” Abid maintained.

Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, President and CEO Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT), meanwhile, said such sudden changes of heart and political affiliations were not only par for the course in South Punjab, but everywhere.


According to him, there are many factors behind a change of local politicians’ loyalties. These, he said, include the weak political system in the country, which compels the majority of politicians here to switch parties to increase their prospects of winning the elections. “As the political system is weak, such politicians don’t stick to one party,” said Mehboob. He added that the intervention of the military in the political system is another factor behind the weak system that promotes the culture of changing allegiances. Because of the military’s constant intervention and its constant monitoring of political activity, political parties don’t work independently, and are thus forced to turn to turncoats to attain or keep power, he said.

The President PILDAT further maintained that the practice of changing loyalties doesn’t only exist in influential political families. People like Sheikh Rasheed from middle class families have also done just that to remain in power.

Salman Abid contends that the culture of changing loyalties should be discouraged through strengthening political parties. Young candidates should be given tickets to contest against the traditional  power-brokers and gradually things will improve, he said, adding that young people need to be educated and the media should play its role in bringing this change. “There is a dire need for political reform in the country to strengthen our developing democracy,” he concluded.


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