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June 23, 2017

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Pakistan's failing bid at democracy exemplified by wheeling & dealing

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- It is a season of defections and of new alliances as the political parties gear up for the coming elections in Pakistan. Horse-trading is the game political parties are engaged in, partaking in intense wheeling and dealing, vying to win over the influential and powerful "electables."

For these power elites it is also all about managing and strengthening family and clan interests. They will obviously go with the highest bidder and where the opportunities lie. There is no political ideology involved when it comes to the power game.

Hence it did not come as a surprise when Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood ditched his long affiliation with the Pakistan Muslim League (PML)-Functional faction led by Pir Pagara, who also happens to be his cousin, to accept the offer by President Zardari to become governor of Punjab.

The move by the crafty president was not only aimed at pulling out the rug from under Pir Pagara who had joined hands with Nawaz Sharif to undermine the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in Sindh, but also to strengthen his party's electoral support base in south Punjab.

Weeks later the new governor announced at a public rally — in the presence of another cousin and former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani — that his three sons, one of them a member of the National Assembly and another a member of the Punjab Assembly, had joined the PPP. The decision was said to have been taken in the best interest of the country and democracy.

Another interesting defection to the PPP which made media headlines last week was that of Saifuddin Khosa, a PML-Nawaz (PML-N) member of the National Assembly. The son of Zulfikar Khosa, a senior adviser to the chief minister of Punjab, Saifuddin switched sides accusing his party of betraying its supporters. It is interesting that it took him so long and close to the elections to realize that. It is certainly more to do with local political dynamics than any principled position.

Such defections have not only benefited the PPP. The PML-N and some other political parties, abandoning their so-called principled positions, have also welcomed turncoats in their ranks.

It is not that party-hopping is something new in Pakistani politics. There was one instance where almost the entire treasury bench of the Punjab Assembly switched sides in 1993 and then returned to the ranks a week later when political fortunes turned around. Similarly, the majority of PML-N members joined the military-sponsored Quaid faction after the coup that ousted the Nawaz Sharif government in 1999.

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