The numbers game for ascertaining who will be the Leader of the House (prime minister) has finally kicked off. The PTI has 155 votes and its allies have 24, totalling 179 for the government. The combined opposition has 162. If at least 10 switch from the government to the opposition, swelling its ranks to the magic number of 172, Imran Khan will be gone. What are the chances this will come to pass?
The Opposition claims that at least 20 PTI MNAs have already committed to crossing the floor on voting day. Some are said to have been “induced” to switch by the prospect of getting a winning berth on the PMLN ticket in central or northern Punjab or PPP ticket in Sindh or southern Punjab. Some palms may also have been greased. If this claim is even half true, then the dice will roll for the Opposition on D-Day.
The Allies of the government, which include the PMLQ (5 votes), MQM (7 votes), BAP (5 votes), GDA (3 votes), Ind (2 votes), Sheikh Rashid (1 vote) and JWP (1 vote), sense they may be the biggest losers in the game if the Opposition gets their required numbers from the PTI. So they are all scrambling to negotiate terms for ditching this government and securing seats in the next. Under the circumstances, if all goes according to plan, the Opposition could well dethrone Imran Khan with a thumping majority of over 200 votes.
For precisely this reason, Imran Khan is fighting back on two fronts. He is swallowing his pride and arrogance and desperately trying to retain his allies by counter inducements. But his focus is on stopping his own herd from flocking to the Opposition. The idea is to instil confidence in his allies that he isn’t going anywhere and they should stick to him.
Imran Khan’s strategy is to block his MNAs from coming to parliament on voting day. And if they defy his orders and end up voting with the Opposition against him, to get the Speaker, Asad Qaisar, to disqualify them from remaining members of the PTI and cancelling their votes. Constitutionally, he cannot stop them from voting against him and the disqualification process can take up to four months (one month with the Election Commission of Pakistan and three months in appeals before the Supreme Court) if due process is followed. But the Speaker can blithely mock the constitution, gaining time for Imran Khan to fight a rear guard action.
The Opposition knows this. That is why it is negotiating with the allies at the same time because they cannot be stopped by the Speaker from joining forces with the Opposition. Voting day promises to be rowdy and murky.
This has come to pass only because the Miltablishment has let it be known that it is no longer propping up Imran Khan, that it is “neutral”. But if Imran Khan survives, the Opposition is bound to accuse it of bailing out the government at the last minute by signalling the allies to stick to Khan like glue. And if he falls, he is sure to target it for “conspiring” against him for various real or imagined reasons.
But the game isn’t over until it’s over. Even if Imran Khan is ousted, the Opposition has to work out a modus operandi and modus vivendi for the next phase. Who is going to head the next government in Islamabad? For how long? What “reforms” will be needed in electoral, accountability and budgetary laws? What is the fate of the various provincial assemblies, who will head them, if and when these will be dissolved. How will Miltablishment allies like PMLQ, MQM, GWD, BAP, et al be accommodated in any future dispensation? If such thorny issues aren’t sorted out swiftly, the whole exercise could be derailed by default, inviting the Miltablishment to “sort out” the situation to everyone’s disadvantage.
Now we are informed by Asad Umar that Imran Khan intends to call his Youth Brigade to seize D-Chowk in Islamabad on voting day, besiege parliament and stop PTI “deserters” from entering it. In turn, Maulana Fazal Ur Rahman has ordered his “Razakars” to protect JUI MNAs in parliament lodges from being harassed, kidnapped or arrested by the police. If PPP “jiyalas” and PMLN supporters are provoked to enter the fray, the stage is set for violent clashes. The Speaker, Asad Qaisar, is waiting for such a situation to arise so that he can prorogue parliament indefinitely and postpone the day of reckoning.
Imran Khan has been as good as his threat. Since last November when tensions erupted between the Miltablishment and him and talk of the Miltablishment weighing its options gathered credibility, he has been planning his exit strategy. This is based on five pillars of resistance. One, continue to lash out at the Opposition as a gang of thieves and robbers who deserve no place in government and provoke them by insulting them personally Two, build up a populist narrative of anti-America, anti-West, anti-India sentiment, regardless of any damage to Pakistan’s foreign policy interests, so that he can point to their “conspiracies” to oust him. Third, threaten the Miltablishment with his “nuclear” option of sacking the current army chief and appointing his own man. Fourth, instruct the Speaker of the National Assembly to obstruct any attempt by the Opposition to dethrone him in parliament regardless of his illegality. Fifth, galvanise his supporters to physically and violently obstruct the removal of his government by constitutional means. In short, his strategy is to resist his ouster by violent means and drag the army into interventionist politics all over again. In other words, if he isn’t allowed to rule, his preferred alternative is to trigger political chaos in the country. Comparisons with a mad man like Donald Trump obviously some to mind.
The ISPR has now pointed to an “unidentified flying object from India that has crashed in Mian Channu in Pakistan Punjab”. The Tehreek Taliban Pakistan, Islamic State-K and Baluch Separatists from across the western border are terrorising and killing Pakistanis, civilians and soldiers, at will. With domestic civil strife notching up by the day, the writing on the wall is ominous.