Pakistan: The Rolling Stones Belong to the Victor

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The region’s politics has a history of turncoats, also known as lotas, who have played a significant role in creating and resolving crises, influencing political legitimacy, and affecting the political landscape of Punjab. This phenomenon has been present in every election cycle since 1988, with candidates frequently changing party affiliations leading up to elections. The term ‘lota’ gained popularity following the mass defection of provincial Muslim League legislators in Punjab in 1993, which marked a turning point in Pakistan’s parliamentary democracy.

The roots of lota-cracy are deeply embedded in constituency-based politics, where dynastic families hold tremendous power. These dynastic politicians, who account for the majority of elected legislators, have been instrumental in shaping policies, programmes, and legislation, impacting the lives of millions of citizens. The culture of lota-cracy is a manifestation of the tribal mindset that is part of the political culture across South Asian countries.

The prevalent issue of frequent defections and dynastic politics is attributed to weak party structures, the influence of the military establishment, and the allocation of discretionary development funds to lawmakers. As a result, political parties are more inclined to form alliances with dynastic politicians rather than build effective party machinery. This phenomenon weakens political parties and strengthens individuals, leading to the monetization of the electoral arena.

The study concludes that dynastic politics and frequent defections are primarily the result of weak structures within political parties, which has impeded their development as institutions. To address this issue, there is a need to end the establishment’s role in creating and destroying dynastic politicians and allow political parties to develop as political institutions.

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