FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 36

Game over for the ruling alliance?

The fate of the coalition government hangs in the balance after Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi has become the chief minister of Punjab following a court ruling. It also signifies the rising popularity of former Prime Minister Imran Khan after his ouster through a vote of no-confidence in April, and serious threats to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s party, which has ruled the largest province of the country for decades.

However, the change has not solved the country’s lingering political crisis. In fact, it has widened it. Political uncertainty will deepen with the passage of time, even though the coalition government has decided to complete its term and hold elections on schedule, in August 2023. The success in Punjab has empowered Imran Khan to dictate terms. Now, his party rules Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces. He can force the coalition government to resign and pave the way for early elections by dissolving the two provincial assemblies. However, the status quo suits him; he will not dissolve the provincial assemblies and let the coalition government in the Centre become more unpopular till the next election. It is said newly-inducted Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi will not either dissolve the assembly even if Imran Khan asks for it. Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi is also the most suitable person in the province for Imran Khan and his party. He can help him defeat Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which is deeply entrenched in the province, in local polls, which would be held later this year.

On the other hand, rumour has it that the federal government is weighing options to impose governor’s rule in Punjab. Later, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah announced that he had already begun drafting a summary for the imposition of governor’s rule, which was moved by the interior ministry. However, the plan may not work. First, the province does not face any situation required to impose governor’s rule, then the President will not endorse the summary and courts would also strike it down.

However, the loss in Punjab has really hurt the PML-N. It has started criticizing national institutions again. The party, along with its coalition partners, even supported an idea to curtail powers of the Supreme Court. Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari supported his party’s Secretary General Farhatullah Babar’s proposal of limiting the powers of the Supreme Court on the appointment and promotion of judges through Article 191 of the Constitution. “A new political philosophy in the making: The Constitution, not parliament, is supreme and the Constitution is not what’s written in it but what the SC says it is. Massive shift of power taking place from elected to un-elected. Parliamentarians think about it. Wake up,” Babar had said in his tweets.

The ruling coalition also attempted to put pressure on the Supreme Court by demanding the formation of a full court to hear the Punjab chief minister’s election case. Clearly, it was an attempt to delay the case for months, while it was clear that Hamza Shehabz’s election as chief minister was illegal from the outset. As soon as the Supreme Court rejected the petition for the formation of a full court, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman along with the leadership of allies announced boycotting the court proceedings. After the verdict was announced, Prime Minister Shehbaz said it was “shocking for lawyers, litigants, the media and the nation.” “Had there been a full court, justice would have been done and seen to be done. We would not compromise on the supremacy of the Constitution and parliament. The Constitution has entrusted state powers to parliament, executive and judiciary and it has bound all institutions to function in their Constitutional domains. No institution can undermine the other,” he said in tweets. PML-N Vice-President Maryam Nawaz called the verdict a judicial coup. She said, “Murder of justice not accepted.”

In a bid to revive its dwindling fortunes, the PML-N is trying to revive its old “anti-establishment” narrative. It claims that it is being pressurised by some quarters to hold early elections after forcing it to take “harsh” decisions to improve the national economy. The party feels it has been betrayed. It thought the establishment would help it win by-polls in Punjab at any cost, even if inflation has increased as a result of its policies and Imran Khan’s popularity has increased since his ouster. The party also wanted courts to make decisions according to its will, which did not happen. It believes Imran Khan is getting relief after he put pressure on national institutions. It is also generally believed that PML-N leaders have created space for themselves in the system by putting pressure on national institutions despite facing serious corruption, money laundering and even drug smuggling cases.

The PTI had routed the PML-N by winning 15 seats in by-elections for 20 seats, which were vacated after the disqualification of PTI members who voted for Hamza Shehbaz for Punjab chief minister’s office. The PTI won five seats in Central Punjab, five in North Punjab and as many in South Punjab. The party won three in Lahore, the PML-N’s stronghold, which has shattered its image and confidence badly.

The PML-N wants the return of Nawaz Sharif to lead its campaign in the next election, otherwise it thinks it will not have a level-playing field. For it, all cases against him will have to be quashed or put on the backburner. Even if he is allowed to return and stay out of jail, it will be difficult for him to match the popularity and vigour of Imran Khan, who ran a tireless campaign during recent by-polls in Punjab. It is a dilemma for the PML-N that if it announces early elections, it will lose and if it delays them, it would lose more badly. Still, it will use the last option on the prospect that it could be able to provide relief to people after a few months.