NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 22

How important is PTI’s move to resign en bloc?

Soon after the ouster of Prime Minister Imran Khan from power, his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party decided to resign en bloc from the National Assembly of Pakistan. The PTI, which is still the single majority party in the National Assembly despite the floor crossing of at least 22 of its Members of National Assembly (MNAs), has submitted the resignation of around 130 of its MNAs to the National Assembly Secretariat. How important and shrewd is this ultimate move by the PTI and its Chairman Imran Khan, is a question being debated in the country.

Apparently, the PTI tendered the resignations in order to build pressure on the new government of Mian Shehbaz Sharif and the powers that be to hold national elections as soon as possible. When Imran Khan as prime minister had advised President Arif Alvi to dissolve the National Assembly and call fresh national elections, he wanted to return to power through new elections. But it was the last ditch effort by Mr. Khan to keep his options open as he had lost a majority in the National Assembly, although fraudulently through horse trading by the then combined opposition parties and now the present government. However, when the Supreme Court of Pakistan overturned the ruling of National Assembly Deputy Speaker Qasim Khan Suri, which disallowed voting on the then opposition’s no-confidence motion against PM Khan, and ordered a vote count on the motion, which saw Imran Khan losing the confidence of the NA, the latter had no other option but to demand a new election. This is critically important for the political survival of Imran Khan and the PTI. Demanding a new election by a single majority party when it feels that it does not have the backing of the majority of its own members and coalition partners in the parliament is not only an appropriate and rational demand but also the only way to pull the country out of the political crisis.

Because in case the non-majority parties are able to form a government through defections, horse trading and other illegal means, they cannot sustain the government for long. Resignation by the majority party, when it thinks it does not have a comfortable majority to run the affairs of the state, is common in democratic countries. However, it is something unthinkable in Pakistan. Since 1988, when democracy was restored, none of the elected governments despite having very thin majorities and while hanging with the proverbial thread of small coalition partners tendered resignations. The obvious reason has been that all parties in power thought that they could not return to power again due to misrule and bad governance. Otherwise a party, which is confident of returning to power through a popular vote, is not against seeking a fresh mandate from the people. Interestingly, Mr. Khan and his PTI have become the first Pakistani political party which dissolved the National Assembly on its own and sought a fresh mandate. So this is an important political development in Pakistan’s history. However, as the Supreme Court, while declaring the acts of disallowing counting on the no-confidence motion against the Prime Minister, dissolution of the National Assembly by the Prime Minister and calling new elections by President Dr. Alvi as unconstitutional, called for a vote count. Consequently, through voting the House expressed its no-confidence in former Prime Minister Imran Khan, with the majority of just two votes. Consequently, the PTI decided to resign en bloc from the National Assembly to force new elections.

Importantly, resignations were tendered after observing a mammoth, or some analysts say, an “unprecedented” public response on April 10, the day for which Imran Khan had given a call to Pakistanis to protest for ousting his government. Mr Khan has taken a stance that his government was dislodged through a conspiracy hatched by America with the collusion of the opposition parties so as to punish him for following an independent foreign policy and forging close ties with Russia. Millions of people took to the streets in response to Imran Khan’s protest call and it was perhaps the moment that the PTI leadership decided to resign en masse. Because it thinks that riding a popular anti-American wave in which nearly all political parties of note of Pakistan have become a part of an alleged US sponsored conspiracy, the PTI has a huge chance of returning to power if elections are held forthwith. Whether the PTI could force the present government and the powers that be to call a new election through resignations is yet to be seen. However, apparently tendering resignations in the context of Pakistani politics may not be shrewd at all. However, when many innovations are taking place in Pakistani political history, for example a prime minister himself dissolves the National Assembly, a vote of no-confidence against a sitting prime minister succeeds for the first time, then tendering resignations could also prove to be immensely consequential.

On his part, PM Shehbaz Sharif has so far taken the position that if the PTI does not take the resignations of its MNAs back, by-elections could be held in the constituencies. What is on the mind of PM Shehbaz is only he could tell but holding by-polls on almost half of National Assembly seats is extremely difficult, if not impossible. In particular, the financial burden of the by-elections is so huge that a fragile economy like Pakistan cannot afford it at all. Then the question would arise: why not hold entirely fresh elections instead of arranging voting for half of NA seats when the cost differential is not big.

According to sources within the PTI, a key factor in the decision to tender the resignations from the NA by the party leadership was to let the electoral arena completely open for the ruling coalition comprising 13 parties to dominate. With no opposition at all winning by-elections for the ruling alliance would be a cakewalk. However, more importantly in such a scenario the alliance led by PM Shehbaz Sharif would probably get a two-thirds rather near a total majority in the National Assembly. Once this happens the ruling alliance could pass any legislation it would like, including making and unmaking of state institutions, including the National Accountability Bureau, some intelligence agencies and anything under the sun. This would not at all be acceptable to the powers that be of the country. Thus, they may think that to avoid such a situation it is better to go for fresh national elections instead of allowing PM Shehbaz Sharif to continue as the chief executive for more than three months after which holding of by-elections would become a constitutional requirement. Thus, the PTI’s decision to resign could prove to be a trump card to get its main demand for new elections realized.