Maulana Fazal ur Rahman, head of the Pakistan Democratic Movement, has announced the decision of the combined Opposition to requisition a session of the National Assembly within a couple of days to table motions of No-Confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan, Speaker Asad Qaisar and Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri. PDM sources claim 86 MNAs have signed the notices even though the law stipulates only 68 may suffice. The constitutional procedure requires the Speaker to call a session of parliament not earlier than three days after receiving such notices and not later than seven days in concluding the matter. The voting against the Prime Minister is via open ballot but against the Speaker and his deputy via secret ballot.
This would suggest that the Opposition may move against the Speaker and Deputy Speaker first because the secret ballot may facilitate the floor crossers from the PTI and allied parties to remain invisible until success has emboldened them to openly stand against the Prime Minister in the second round. But if the government orders its supporters to abstain from attending the assembly, then this approach will not be fruitful.
It is speculated that a similar Opposition move may materialize in the Punjab Assembly any day.
Meanwhile, popular pressure on the ruling party is building up through the PPP’s Long March led by Chairman Bilawal Bhutto that has entered Punjab and is facing roadblocks by the Punjab Police.
The PDM’s decision to take the plunge follows weeks of hectic politicking by both opposition heavyweights and government stalwarts. The former was aiming to corral the government’s 20 or so allies while trying to poach an equal number from the ranks of the government. The latter, naturally enough, has been desperately resisting such moves. On one side are arrayed the two Bhutto-Zardaris, the two Sharifs, three ex-Prime Ministers Yousaf Raza Gillani, Raja Pervez Ashraf and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, and the good Maulana. On the other, the arrogant Imran Khan is personally hustling the Allies, notably the Gujrat Chaudhries, and bending the knee to COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa in a last-ditch attempt to clutch at the Miltablishment’s coattails and survive.
Until now, naysaying analysts have ruled the roost. How can a sitting government handpicked by the Miltablishment be ousted, they have argued, especially when they were on the “same page” and the only option to Imran Khan was Nawaz Sharif, the one man the Miltablishment had moved Heaven and Earth to dislodge only a few years ago? But bird watchers saw unmistakable signs of increasing tears on the “same page”, notably in sharp differences of opinion between Imran Khan and the Miltablishment on conduct of national security policies, foreign affairs, economic management and one sided “accountability”, that proved to be embarrassing for the Miltablishment by association with him. Thus they were bold to predict that the end of Mr Khan was nigh, sooner or later, but no later than the tipping point when the PPP and PDM would arrive on the “same page” between themselves and also with the Miltablishment about what should happen but after the vote of no-confidence has succeeded – the nature and scope of the next government, the timing of the next elections to the national assembly and the provinces and the limitations of the various power-sharing compromises built into the situation.
Imran Khan is expected to deploy all his resources of state and government to thwart the Opposition, including arrests of Opposition figures, political bribes to allies and harassment of independent media. It is also not beyond the realm of possibility that he may desperately lash out at the leaders of the Miltablishment and risk taking the system down with him.
But Khan’s weakness is staring the Opposition in the face. His handshake with Vladimir Putin, followed by a refusal to criticize Russian aggression against an independent country, was meant to score brownie points with his anti-American supporters despite the Miltablishment’s advice against it. His economic “relief” package is aimed at befooling the masses in an election year even though it may derail the IMF program and nudge Pakistan in the direction of bankruptcy and default. His refusal to start trading with India, despite the fact that it will provide relief to the population at large by ending speculative shortages and resultant price increases of essential goods, defies logic unless the aim is to prepare the ground for attacking the Miltablishment and Opposition in the event that Imran Khan is on the outside when the next government tries to “trade with the enemy” or get too pally with America.
Although we can be reasonably sure that the Opposition has done its homework before making such a strategic announcement and Imran Khan will soon lick the dust, nothing is 100% guaranteed in the murky world of Pakistani “spy vs spy” politics. What will the Opposition do if the vote of no-confidence fails to de-seat Khan?
We can be reasonably sure that the PMLN will raise the stakes for the Miltablishment based on the argument that its avowed neutrality was in fact objectively weighted in favour of Imran Khan. If there is another “great betrayal”, we should expect Nawaz Sharif to open his guns again and name names. With public sympathy on his side, the Miltablishment will squirm and bristle, as it did on such an occasion earlier, but without any prospect of relief afforded by prospects of better economic and political management by Imran Khan.
The “Ides of March” deadline for settling debts has arrived. The Opposition has nothing to lose and everything to gain. Place your bets. It’s now or never.