NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 24

How to avoid complete political chaos

If sense still does not prevail among the top political parties, politicians and the powers-that-be, Pakistan is heading towards a political collapse that would have far-reaching consequences for the security of the country and its citizens. It would also have disastrous economic and social repercussions. At the moment, despite the formation of a new government led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan is facing profound political instability. More importantly, given the designs of the current dispensation formed by at least 13 disparate parliamentary groups, political instability could not be overcome.

First of all, the new government, which came to power after the first-ever successful no-confidence vote against a sitting prime minister in the history of Pakistan, is hanging by a proverbial thread as it has now a majority of only one vote. In the National Assembly of 342 members, a simple majority could be attained by any party or group of parties having the support of at least 172 members. When Prime Minister Imran Khan was thrown out of power through a no-confidence vote, the then opposition and now ruling parties bagged 174 votes in favour of the no-confidence vote. With the same number, its nominee, Shehbaz Sharif, was elected as Prime Minister. Unfortunately, one of its members belonging to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), died due to natural causes and now the government is left with a majority of just one vote. Noticeably, more than 24 members of former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), have changed loyalties but did not vote during the election of the new Prime Minister. The PTI filed a reference against the members in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to unseat them and ban them for life from taking part in politics, however, the ECP has rejected it. The PTI has also taken the matter to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for its advisory opinion on the fate of the MPs, who have changed their political loyalties. The case is pending while hearings are going on. It seems that the PTI members would be disqualified and they would not be able to join the present government and give it the much-needed numerical strength.

In this situation, a government composed of parties with divergent and even seemingly irreconcilable standpoints could lose the support of a small party having three-four members any moment. In this case, the government would no longer be in majority and with the head of state, President Arif Alvi, belonging to the PTI, he may ask Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif any moment to take the vote of confidence, which would be very difficult to attain.

Whether Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s government remains in power for the rest of the 16 months tenure of the present National Assembly or even for some months, it would be an extremely weak government. In case the government falls, new elections would become inevitable, however, holding fresh polls would be stupendously problematic given the highly divided political arena of the country and the incapacity of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). It must be kept in mind that around 130 PTI MNAs have already tendered their resignations. This is nearly half of the National Assembly. Holding by-elections on such a large number of constituencies would not be a cakewalk. Moreover, if the ECP somehow holds elections on the vacant seats, which have to be held within 90 days, the PTI would not take part in it and the present setup may be able to elect nearly all of its members. In this case, the present government would be able to have an absolute majority in the National Assembly. However, the million dollar question is whether the agitating PTI would allow this to happen. Even if the PTI may not be able to stop by-elections on its vacant seats, whether the powers-that-be would let it happen? Perhaps not. Even getting a two-thirds majority would not save the present government because the narrative which the ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan has been able to build that he has been thrown out and Shehbaz Sharif has been brought in is a part of an America-hatched conspiracy for regime change in Pakistan as his (Imran) policy of going closers towards Russia was not acceptable to Washington. Importantly, Imran Khan and the PTI call the present dispensation of PM Shehbaz Sharif an “imported government” which is “unacceptable” to them. Carrying the burden of the label of “imported government,” PM Shehbaz Sharif’s government, with no majority of its own, would remain in extreme pressure. Thus, it would be of no use to the people, state and society.

On the other hand, in case fresh elections are called by the present government as demanded by the PTI and which is also presented as a panacea by several senior members of the ruling alliance as the only way forward, then the loser of the polls would not accept the results. As things are unfolding now, ousted PM Imran Khan is riding a wave of unprecedented popularity as a huge number of Pakistanis have come to believe his narrative that his removal and bringing the present dispensation is a part of the US dictated regime-change agenda. So, if the PTI wins the next polls, then all other political parties would not accept the results and in case the present 13 political groups, which have joined hands and formed the government, win a majority, whether contesting together or separately, the PTI would not accept the result of polls by any means. It would suck in fully the military and the judiciary into the political quagmire. Already, despite general uttering of respect for the military and the judiciary both sides of the political divide have vituperated the political role of the military and the judiciary. As the present parliamentary political system stands completely exposed in the last month or so, and it is of no use to the country and society, some out-of-the-box solution has to be discovered to go get out of the current political morass. However, the solution would require the cooperation and consensus of all key political stakeholders as well as main state institutions. It would be very difficult to achieve. Then what is the alternative solution? In the present situation, it seems that holding fresh elections with the minimum involvement of the military and civilian bureaucracy is the only way forward. Once relatively fair and transparent elections are held the incoming government may be able to come up with some out-of-the-box solution. Then such a solution would have a fair amount of legitimacy and any opposition to it would not hold water. So let’s have fresh elections in Pakistan with all institutions strictly sticking to their constitutional role and hopefully the doomsday scenario could be avoided. Otherwise, it is confusion, chaos and conflict all around us.