NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 04

Dissolving assemblies to worsen crisis

The opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, which has its government in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has decided to dissolve legislative assemblies of both provinces to force the 13-party ruling alliance to hold general elections in the country. The ruling alliance, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, has however rejected the demand.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is the most popular leader in the history of Pakistan by winning seven out of eight National Assembly seats he recently contested in by-elections across Pakistan, had announced dissolving the Punjab and KP assemblies at the end of his massive long march on October 26. Although the ruling alliance has declared that the PTI may go ahead with its plan to dissolve the assemblies, it would not dissolve the National Assembly and two provincial assemblies of Sindh and Balochistan, where the ruling alliance has its government.

The foremost question arises that whether the PTI and its only ally, the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), have the capacity and intention of dissolving the Punjab and KP assemblies. In this regard it may be safely analyzed that the PTI has the full capacity to dissolve the KP assembly where it has a two-thirds majority and has its own Chief Minister Mahmud Khan. So it can dissolve it anytime. On the other hand, the PTI, despite having around 170 seats in the Punjab Assembly, had to surrender the position of the chief minister to its ally, the PML-Q, which only has 10 seats. Because without the PML-Q, the PTI could not surpass the tally required for a majority in the legislature. So it had to give the position of the chief minister to the PML-Q’s top leader, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi. Thus on its own, the PTI does not have the capacity to dissolve the Punjab Assembly. Because it is only Chief Minister Pervez Elahi who can send a summary of dissolution of the Punjab Assembly. Although it has been said that CM Pervez Elahi has given the entire right to dissolve the Punjab Assembly to PTI Chairman Imran Khan but it is very much obvious that Pervez Elahi does not want to send a summary to the governor for the dissolution of the assembly because he knows that it may be the last time that he has become the chief minister as his party does not stand any chance to win even the current tally of seats in the next elections. Yes, one thing which may convince him to agree to dissolve the Punjab Assembly is that it is the only way that he may keep his party’s alliance with the PTI intact. Thus, it will ensure that the PML-Q could retain most of its current seats in the next elections as an ally of the PTI, which is all set to win the general elections by a big margin.

In this situation, the PML-Q may have an outside chance to elect Pervez Elahi or his son Moonis Elahi as chief minister or at least speaker. But much will depend upon the outcome and statistics of the next elections. At the moment, thoughts like ‘a bird in hand is worth than two in the bush’ must be crossing the mind of Pervez Elahi, therefore, he is hesitant to dissolve the Punjab Assembly and would like to remain chief minister for the next eight months of the remaining period of the five-year tenure of the current assembly.

Insofar as the PTI is concerned, the dissolution of the Punjab and KP assemblies is a win-win situation. The dissolution of the two assemblies would compel the federal government to call elections anyway. Because once the two assemblies are dissolved, the Election Commission would have to hold fresh elections in the provinces within 90 days. Given the current popularity of the PTI it is most likely to return with a thumping majority in both assemblies. It must be reminded in this case the governments would be for five years and when in the rest of the two provinces and the National Assembly elections would be held after the completion of their respective tenures in August next, the PTI will be in a far better position to influence elections in the Centre, Sindh and Balochistan provinces.

This situation has put the ruling alliance in a very tight corner. Because the largest political party of the alliance, the PML-N of PM Shehbaz Sharif, has only its vote bank in Punjab and that is no longer defensible given the recent win after win in by-elections by the PTI. So, if Punjab gets out of the hands of the PML-N it would be impossible for it to win the National Assembly elections whenever they are held. On the other hand, the political head of the alliance, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F), which has its political base only in KP province, would also lose it if the KP assembly is dissolved by CM Mahmud and elections are held in the next three months. For another important party of the ruling alliance, the PPP, holding elections in KP and Punjab is of little interest because in these provinces it does not have any chance of winning a handful of seats let alone getting a majority. Another ally, the Awami National Party (ANP), also having only a political base in KP, will let it go in case elections are held only in KP. In this scenario, infighting would start very soon in the 13-party ruling alliance if the PTI dissolves the two assemblies. It will pave the way for early general elections. This must be the strategy of the PTI.

On their part, the PML-N and the PPP, the big parties of the ruling alliance, ostensibly have a strategy to make the economic and political situation so bad that elections could not be held and the military may be drawn into the political arena. Both parties know that at least they have no chance to win the next elections. So it is better to make the situation worse rather than hold fresh general elections and lose them comprehensively to the PTI. But this strategy of the ruling alliance is already putting an unbearable burden on the country, particularly its economy, and the damage may be irreparable.