FeaturedNationalVolume 14 Issue # 09

Going early to the polls?

Prime Minister Imran Khan has hinted at early elections, if his party lost the majority in the Punjab after the creation of a new province in south Punjab. Many opposition parties and analysts have interpreted it as his admission of failure to run the affairs of the country.


Theoretically, fresh elections can be held in Pakistan, but it is almost impossible in practice. If his remarks are analyzed closely, Prime Minister Imran Khan only expressed his commitment to create a new province in the Punjab, when he said he would go ahead even if he had to call fresh polls. His critics claimed he had admitted his defeat after his government failed to perform in its first 100 days. They believe the prime minister is disappointed with his team, especially with his economic setup. After an unprecedented increase in the dollar value, he was rumoured to have sacked Finance Minister Asad Umar. However, the Prime Minister’s Office rebutted it, but it is still being speculated that Prime Minister Imran Khan may replace his whole economic team, including Asad Umar, State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Tariq Bajwa and Federal Bureau of Revenue (FBR) Chairman Dr. Jahanzeb Khan.


Some say the prime minister is not happy with the handling of the Finance Ministry’s affairs by Asad Umar and he wants to replace him by Minister for Energy Omar Ayyub Khan. Asad Umar could head the Energy or Planning and Development Ministry. Besides the devaluation of the rupee, it is said businesspeople of Karachi were not happy with policies of the finance minister and former Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Secretary General Jehangir Khan Tareen had conveyed their grievances to Prime Minister Imran Khan after meeting them in Karachi. Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammad Sarwar also visited Karachi recently to attend the IDEAS Expo, where he met stockbrokers and investors, who complained about Asad’s behaviour and his reluctance to even listen to them.


It is said the prime minister has also made up his mind to remove SBP Governor Tariq Bajwa and replace him with Dr. Shamshad Akhtar. However, since the post of the SBP governor is constitutional, Tariq Bajwa has been asked to resign. If he doesn’t follow the orders, the government would have no choice but to seek his removal through the SBP Board. FBR Chairman Dr. Jahanzeb Khan could be replaced by a former officer of Inland Revenue Services (IRS), Shahid Hussain Asad. The changes are expected in a few weeks. However, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry called the rumours “negative and baseless propaganda against the finance minister to destabilise the recovering national economy.”


It is possible than the prime minister may reshuffle his cabinet and remove some ministers, who he thinks, are not performing. He has hinted it clearly, but the media highlighted his hint of fresh polls disproportionally and out of the context of his interview. However, it was music to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s ears. He welcomed the remarks and said his party was ready to contest the election. He said that if the PTI wanted to go for midterm elections, it would be a blessing for the people of Pakistan. “The people are happy over the remarks as they want to get rid of the government even before the schedule time and the PML-N is in a position to win elections whenever they are held,” he told reporters outside an accountability court in Islamabad, where he regularly appears in two corruption cases.


Former President Asif Ali Zardari believed the PTI government would not be able complete its constitutional term. “I can’t see this captain (Imran Khan) being able to manage for long. In today’s world, a government that does not deliver has to step down. Prime Minister Imran Khan will not be able to manage the economy, nor will he be able to hold up to false commitments he made in the election,” he told a rally in Sadiqabad. Awami National Party (ANP) President Asfandyar Wali Khan said the prime minister’s statement on early elections would worsen the economic crisis in the country. In a statement, he said the prime minister’s interview had created many questions and confusion. “Early polls are not only a way of escape but will also plunge the country into further economic turmoil,” he added.


Early elections are called if a government fails and people start demanding it to step down or if the rulers believe they are immensely popular among the people and would win at any cost. At this point, the government cannot even think of holding fresh elections as its popularity has dipped steeply, few months after winning the election. Prices of fuel, electricity and all daily-use items have skyrocketed as a result of its tough economic decisions. The PTI cannot sacrifice its government for the creation of a new province. It will call early polls, when it is absolutely sure about its win. It cannot happen for at least three years.


The next three months will be tough. The government will start providing relief to the people after it. Even if the prime minister admits his failure openly, fresh elections will not be called. Pakistan’s security situation cannot afford it. His party will choose a new prime minister in that case. However, some say the PTI government enjoys the support of all national institutions and it would be able to resolve most issues of the people by the end of the current term and it would be difficult to defeat it in at least the next two elections.