NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 3

Early elections?

The opposition parties have created an impression that the country has reached a point where Prime Minister Imran Khan feels that snap polls are necessary to move ahead. Instead of rejecting the notion outrightly, ministers say it is the prerogative of the prime minister to call elections anytime. It has not only created confusion among people but also added to political instability in the country.

It is a fact that Prime Minister Imran Khan has a razor-thin majority in the parliament and he has failed to reform the system which was his election manifesto. He is also facing rising demands of his coalition partners. He himself will not be happy with his government’s performance because it has failed to provide relief to the common people. The opposition has stalled his every effort to reform the system. He would have called early elections long ago to end the impasse if the situation had been favourable for him.

However, Prime Minister Imran Khan appears to be more confident of completing his five-year term as the opposition alliance has broken up after threatening his government with huge public gatherings last year. It is still not the right time to call early polls. He will have to test the popularity of his government in local polls in Punjab. It will also enable him to assess the vote bank of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the only stumbling block in his way to win the next general elections. He has recently given the go-ahead to Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar to weigh options for early local polls. Knowing his limits and the experience of his key coalition partner, the Pakistan Muslim League-Q, he has involved the Chaudhrys of Gujrat to find ways to eliminate the PML-N from the province. It appears that Punjab Assembly Speaker Ch Pervaiz Elahi has won the confidence of the prime minister and he will be running the show in future.

Analysts believe the prime minister wants to keep the PML-Q leaders on his right side after reports that they have worked out some election plan with former President Asif Ali Zardari some two months back, though the Chaudhrys denied it. Besides, the premier also wants to keep them away from future political maneuvering against the Punjab government. It is clear that the prime minister will not announce fresh elections until holding local polls in Punjab. Local polls in Punjab are not possible this year because of the pandemic situation. The government also needs time to change laws and curtail inflation. If the PTI wins in major cities, Prime Minister Imran Khan will have no hesitation in announcing fresh general elections by the end of the next year.

The government is already working on a strategy to win the next general elections. It includes giving voting and contesting rights to overseas Pakistanis and holding polls under Electronic Voting Machines, which the opposition parties oppose. Taking a cue from the ruling party, other political parties have also launched their election campaigns. The ruling party in the Centre, Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has announced mega development funds in budgets to attract voters. The federal government announced a Rs900 billion Federal Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP) for 2021-22, which is 38pc higher than the last year’s programme of Rs650 billion. In its third budget, the ruling party significantly increased subsidies and incentives for big business, manufacturing, corporate market and agriculture sectors. The Punjab government also rolled out a Rs2,232.7 billion fiscally expansionary, growth budget for the current financial year that doles out massive funds for PTI legislators for execution of development projects in their constituencies under the district development package, proposes launching of a universal health insurance scheme and implementation of infrastructure projects across the province. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government unveiled a Rs1.118 trillion budget for the fiscal year 2021-22, with a record development outlay of Rs371 billion. The PPP’s Sindh government unveiled a Rs329 billion Annual Development Programme (ADP) for 2021-22, which is more than double the revised ADP of the last fiscal year. The development expenditure of the province was estimated at Rs329.032 billion.

Undoubtedly, the threat of the opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement, has subsided and the ruling party is certain to complete its five-year term. The PTI is strong in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and may form a government in the province for the record third time, but it will have to work really hard to defeat the PML-N in Punjab in the next election. The defeat of the ruling party on one provincial assembly seat each in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in recent by-polls has also exposed its vulnerability, infighting and serious threats from the opposition in local and general elections. The PML-N won the PP-51 Wazirabad by-election by a fair margin. The victory shows its vote bank has remained intact despite several setbacks to the party since the last general election. It also indicates serious challenges it poses to the ruling PTI when local elections are held. On the other hand, the ruling party can be satisfied with the fact that its vote bank has increased since the last general election, despite the reality that people are annoyed at it over rising prices and bad governance.

The by-poll results show the PML-N has retained its vote bank in Punjab. The ruling party’s spirit is still high as its candidates have obtained more votes than the general election. However, if elections are held now, it will face a big defeat because people are annoyed at it over high prices and bad governance. However, the ruling party still has enough time to improve its performance and win the general election in 2023.