Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan has issued notices to 20 lawmakers of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly for selling their votes in the recent Senate elections. He has also decided to file references against them in the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) if they failed to prove their innocence. The bold move of naming and shaming his party members publically attests to his commitment to purge politics of corruption. He has also set an example for other political parties to take practical steps to curb horse trading in the electoral process, instead of mere rhetoric.
The process of kicking out 20 Members of the Provincial Assembly (MPAs) was not easy for the party because it already had only a bare minimum majority in the assembly. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly has 124 members. PTI minority member Baldev Kumar was not allowed to take the oath while another PTI lawmaker Abdul Munim was disqualified for not completing the two-year mandatory period after government service and the assembly was left with 122 lawmakers. After expelling its 20 legislators, the party will be left with only 41 members and it will lose majority in the House. At least 17 PTI lawmakers sold their votes for the Senate election, enabling two Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidates to be elected to the Senate from the province, where the PPP has only seven MPAs. An initial investigation ordered by KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak into alleged horse trading revealed that at least 17 ─ and as many as 20 ─ PTI MPAs had voted for candidates outside the party.
In the past three decades, allegations of horse trading and corruption have marred the Senate elections in Pakistan, but no political leader or party has taken practical step to reform the procedure. Every political party, which forms the government in Pakistan, has an edge over other political parties in the Senate election because it has huge resources at its disposal to attract legislators of other parties and buy their conscience. However, it is the first time a ruling party lost the Senate election. The PPP was the biggest winner. The PTI had raised the issue of horse trading in the Senate election before the election reform committee of the parliament ahead of the polls but neither the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) nor the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) paid attention to it. The PTI chief disclosed that he was offered Rs450 million to get a man elected as senator. However, he refused to disclose the name of the individual who had made the offer. “I believe similar offers were also made to heads of other political parties but none of them has ever spoken a single word about it. We have constituted a committee to probe corruption in the Senate election and will provide a fair chance to the accused lawmakers to explain their position. If they fail to satisfy the inquiry committee, their names will be forwarded to NAB,” he told the media.
The move can also create a constitutional crisis in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Assembly as the PTI has lost the majority after issuing notices to the 20 MPAs. The opposition is in a strong position if it decides to submit a no-confidence motion against the chief minister. However, the opposition is confused and divided. It failed to hold a meeting after the PTI announced the action against its lawmakers. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which had 16 MPAs, is now short of Wajihuz Zaman Khan, who has jumped ship. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) has also lost Fazal Shakoor to the PTI. The Awami National Party (ANP) has five members while Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) has lost its member, Babar Salim, who has joined the PML-N. PTI’s ousted lawmakers Ziaullah Afridi and Deena Naz have joined the PPP, whose tally has risen to 8 from 6 members. The Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) has been a major loser in the current crisis as half of its lawmakers have defected to other parties. There is no apparent consensus among the opposition to take any move against the chief minister as it would be useless. It is not willing to move a no-confidence motion because it cannot decide about the next chief minister, who will be left with only one month to serve. The crisis may lead to a situation where KP Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra may ask CM Khattak to take a fresh vote of confidence. Even if he fails to attain a majority in the House, it would again lead to a crisis situation as nobody would like to take up the job for one month.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has also imposed a ban on transfers, appointments and development projects and the chief minister’s post has become useless. It appears the PTI chief has taken advantage of the situation because he has made a calculated move, knowing well that no one would want to form the government for one month. The PTI has also taken another crucial step by refusing to present the upcoming budget on the pretext that it was the right of the new government. If the budget is not presented, it may lead to the shutdown of the government and the public servants would not be able to receive salaries in June. On the other hand, KP Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak may ask Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra to dissolve the assembly to preempt the perceived opposition move to file a no-trust motion against him.
It appears Imran Khan’s move against his party legislators was calculated, but still it was a bold and unprecedented attempt to tackle corruption in the electoral process. According to PTI leaders, they have concrete evidence of the involvement of the MPAs, who sold their votes. However, all the MPAs deny the allegation and have sworn on the Quran to prove their innocence. The action also indicates the confidence of the PTI leader, who has received so many applications from “electables” that he hopes to win the next election with a huge majority at the Centre, the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.