NationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 7

Imran Khan besieged?

The opposition has once again joined hands against Prime Minister Imran Khan and it has decided to give a tough time to the government in and outside the parliament. The opposition has already announced a fresh schedule of rallies in major cities. It recently embarrassed the government by foiling its attempt to pass two bills in the National Assembly.

The opposition has also completed its homework to bring a no-trust motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan, Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar. The ruling party also faces serious rifts over key issues. The opposition believes it is the right time to strike as Prime Minister Imran Khan has lost the trust of the powers that be over the appointment of the ISI chief. His popularity has also plunged after his complete failure to control skyrocketing prices. Seeing Prime Minister Imran Khan in trouble, the coalition partners of the government, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM )and Pakistan Muslim League (PML-Q), have also expressed their “concern” over the “poor performance” of the government and its failure to fulfill promises.

In a recent meeting, the PML-Q openly criticised the Punjab government and said that the party was not being consulted before making key decisions. It expressed reservations against Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar about development funds for the constituencies in which PML-Q candidates had won in the last election. It complained that CM Buzdar was interfering in their constituencies ahead of upcoming local elections. Most leaders of the party, according to media reports, asked their leader, Pervaiz Elahi, to quit the Punjab government. Meanwhile, MQM deputy convener Amir Khan has said it is now becoming a burden for his party to remain an ally of the PTI government. He said his party was seriously concerned about unprecedented inflation in the country and government policies. He said the MQM was part of the coalition at the Centre out of compulsions. “We have certain problems and that’s why we are in the government,” he said. The situation has added to the nuisance value of the coalition partners of the government, which has a razor-thin majority in the parliament. The odds are heavily stacked against Prime Minister Imran Khan.

On the other hand, the opposition has formed a united front in and outside the parliament. The PPP has quit the PDM, but its chairman, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has expressed its willingness to work with the opposition. He met Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman at his residence, for the first time after leaving the opposition alliance. It has sent a message to the government circles that the opposition means business. There are also signals that the PPP might rejoin the opposition alliance.

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.

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. 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 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.

Undoubtedly, the threat of the opposition alliance 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 ruling party’s spirit is still high. 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.