The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) on Saturday issued a show-cause notice to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif over his failure to conduct intra-party elections of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PMLN), which he himself heads. Similarly, the commission issued a final notice to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) to hold the polls within the scheduled time.

It is a good move of the ECP, that amidst all this chaos of new precedents regarding dissident parliamentarians and possible incoming by-elections, the regulatory body has not forgotten to also call upon the accountability of political parties themselves. Despite political parties in Pakistan weaponising allegations of corruption, dynastic rule, and nepotism, the fact remains that almost all political parties, with perhaps the exception of Jamaat-e-Islami, have continued the tradition of conducting the hierarchy of the party in a fairly undemocratic way themselves. Most political parties have neglected the issue of intra-party elections or have conducted such elections in a negligent way; they are run like obsolete enterprises with leaders at the helm seldom changing.

Weak democratic structures within the leadership of political parties themselves have an insidious, long-lasting impact on the country’s political culture. Lack of accountability and detail in intra-party elections leads to the situation we see today, one which favours elite and status quo candidates over loyal party members. There is little likelihood for grassroots politicians to rise to the highest positions. This in turn leads to poor political participation and an alienation of the youth from politics.

The political parties lose their case while defending the democratic system when they themselves fail in evolving the same in their own ranks. PML-N has few accountability systems within the party, with internal elections of members often depending on the whims of the leaders. PTI, which promised to bring transparency measures, has unfortunately also not focused on party building and is instead another one-man show, which is perhaps one of the reasons that the party leadership is in crisis. Investing in internal party mechanisms is essential, not just for democracy and the betterment of the country, but for the legacy of the political parties as well.