The events of the last few days have shown that the “hybrid” experiment is hurtling towards its denouement on account of the impending vote of no-confidence in the National Assembly. With the swelling ranks of PTI defectors and the ominous signals from the coalition partners, the fate of the government appears to be sealed – although in Pakistani politics nothing is certain until the very last minute!
Louis XIV, the famous King of France, had once remarked: “apres moi, le déluge!” (after me, the deluge!). Imran Khan has approached the no-confidence motion in the same manner, portraying himself as the nation’s sole saviour and claiming that the nation would sink with him rather than swim with the key opposition leaders. But just as France survived the departure of the Sun King, similarly Pakistan too will come to terms with the post-Imran era if our prime minister is constitutionally voted out of office. Nations are greater than individuals, no matter how exalted their superstar status.
However, the million-dollar question remains: after Imran Khan, who? Will the assembly fail to elect a new premier, thus leading to immediate elections? Or, will a new prime minister be elected for a short-term “bridge” government followed by elections later this year? Alternatively, will the new prime minister see out the current assembly’s tenure, followed by elections in October – November 2023? On this crucial question, the mists of obfuscation remain in place.
My view is that early elections are imperative to defuse the grave ongoing crisis and this is in the best interests of both the PTI and the opposition. Let me explain why this is so.
For the PTI, the portents are ominous if the present assembly continues to function with an opposition-controlled government at the helm. First, once it is bereft of the trappings of power, defections from the PTI will increase, denuding its parliamentary strength further and adversely affecting its morale. The Buzdar government will most likely fall, and a domino effect may also lead to the ouster of the KP government. Thus, PTI may be stripped of all share in government for the first time since 2013, which will be a grievous blow to the party’s self-confidence.
Second, if the new government decides to initiate criminal investigations into the various scandals that marred the functioning of the PTI government – with the sugar, LNG, Peshawar BRT and urea fiascos being foremost among this number – key party leaders will face great pressure and this would further sap the PTI’s ability to effectively function in opposition.
Third, armed with governmental facts and figures and marshalling the power of the media, the new government will determinedly arraign the PTI government as a bunch of incompetents which brought the country to its nadir.
Fourth, if the new government does what seems so difficult to imagine, and injects some much-needed stability into the economy, while simultaneously improving the parlous situation currently existing in relation to governance, this may position it even more favourably when compared to the PTI.
Finally, the opposition alliance is a temporary collection of uneasy bedfellows. The moment the election drums are beaten, the opposition parties will be arrayed against each other in a divisive electoral contest. If this happens sooner rather than later, this will obviously suit Imran Khan, since he can quickly exploit the differences amongst his opponents.
Once it is bereft of the trappings of power, defections from the PTI will increase, denuding its parliamentary strength further and adversely affecting its morale
For the above reasons, Imran Khan would be well-advised to make an honourable exit and channel whatever political nous and savvy he possesses towards the goal of securing immediate elections.
But the opposition also stands to gain from early elections, albeit for different reasons. First, if the opposition decides to operate a government for the remaining term of the current assembly, it will face a fairly formidable band of die-hard PTI MNAs under Imran Khan as the Leader of the Opposition. Imran may well prove to be a truly lethal opposition leader, since the role comes naturally to him, and he would be smarting from the wounds of his premature ouster from the premiership. Therefore, it can be expected that the PTI-led opposition may make it difficult for the assembly to function, and at the very least the atmosphere in the House would be further polarized and fraught with tension.
Second, when the opposition forms the government, sooner or later the sectional interests of the various parties are bound to come to the fore; friction, if not discord, within the government’s ranks may well ensue, as night follows day. This is bound to be exploited by the PTI opposition, which is aware of the inherent rivalry of the opposition parties.
Third, the new government will inherit colossal problems, ranging from the economy to foreign policy to issues of governance. It would be well-nigh impossible for a government comprising various opposition parties, and pulling in different directions, to contend with these grave challenges. If the new government fails to stem the rot, as a natural corollary it would be tarred with the same brush and the short memory of the electorate would work to the disadvantage of the government, while at the same time possibly casting the PTI in a forgiving light.
Finally, there is a chance that the electorate may consider Imran as the victim and thereby lend a sympathetic ear to his message of having been brought down by a gang of allegedly corrupt politicians. The longer he gets the chance to cry blue murder, the greater the possibility that it will resonate with the electorate.
Therefore, all in all, fresh elections without delay are the best option for both the PTI and its opponents. But for once, the powers-that-be should let the general public, the real masters of this country, choose their elected representatives through a free vote, without any of the engineering, manipulation and interference which has plagued our past elections. If not, then to quote the Bard of Avon, our political arena will continue to be “bound in shallows and in miseries.”