There is a conventional wisdom story out there on how the PTI is becoming a big, bad, scary machine. The story goes something like this:

Imran Khan is personally popular –> higher chances of success in elections for PTI –> more big-name turncoats join the party –> higher chances of success in elections for PTI –> virtuous cycle

To a large extent, this story is true, but I think it glosses over something that needs to be mentioned. The question is: who are the turncoats joining the party (step 3), and where are they coming from?

While a comprehensive list of all the turncoats that have joined PTI from other parties doesn’t seem to exist**, I’ve at least been able to get some sense of who these people are and which parties they’re coming from. These are the last few results for “joins PTI” on Google Pakistan.

Javed Hashmi — PML(N)

Sardar Aseff Ahmed Ali — PPP

Qaiser Ahmed Sheikh — Independent

Syed Iftikhar Hussain Gilani — PPP

Shah Mahmood Qureshi — PPP

Masood Sharif Khattak — PPP

Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri — PML(Q)

Azam Khan Swati — JUI(F)

Air Marshal Asghar Khan — Tehrik-e-Istaqlal

Mian Khaliq-ur-Rehman —  PML(Q)

Javed Hashmi, waving goodbye to his party, part of a larger trend

One thing that I suggested yesterday to a couple of friends, and have been happy to see borne out in the data (at least so far), is that the absolute lack of turncoats from (a) the Jamaat-e-Islami, and (b) the MQM. I don’t think either is a coincidence.

For me, of the mainstream parties in Pakistan, only two can be said to be ideological: the Jamaat, and the MQM (Islamic revolution through democratic means for the former, middle class empowerment for the latter). All the rest are based on some sense of identity affiliation, whether ethnic or clan or regional or whatever, but calling them ideological would be stretching it.

As a consequence of this distinction, it’s easy to deduce that the median member of the MQM or JI believes a lot more strongly in the message and “rightness” of his/her party than the median member of, say, the PPP, who’s more likely to be interested in contesting a seat on a party ticket. As a result, when the potential for success for [insert party here] ticket goes down, and PTI’s chances of success go up, we’re more likely to see politicians from [insert party here] to leave for the PTI. But if the same thing happens for the JI or MQM, their members stay put.

This is why it’s difficult for me to attach any real policy significance to the PTI’s admittedly excellent run recently. The party is clearly on the rise and forcing observers (including myself) to tick upwards their estimates of how many seats they can/will win. But at the end of the day, even if it wins 100 seats, it doesn’t really represent “change” on the ground, since it’s the same people but under a different party banner.

Anyway, on a slightly related note, you should read Cafe Pyala’s post on the PTI jalsa in Karachi, if you haven’t already.

**Update: Here is a list of politicians joining PTI in Excel; I’m not sure how complete it is but it seems to be pretty comprehensive. Thanks to reader Qasim for leaving the link in the comments.