FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 43

Minus Imran Khan?

Rumour has it former Prime Minister Imran Khan will be disqualified from taking part in politics. He himself has expressed his fear that the government was desperately working on a “minus one formula.” He also faces a number of cases and will be indicted in a contempt case on September 12. He does not face an immediate threat in the case, yet he has opened too many fronts which may hurt him in the long run. However, his ouster from national politics will discredit the next election and democratic process in the country.

Imran Khan also claims that work has started on a plan to topple his party’s government in Punjab and his legislators are being threatened or bribed to leave the party. It is said that it is a part of the government’s strategy to remove the PTI government in Punjab ahead of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s return to the country. Imran Khan also alleged that the plan to disqualify him was a part of a bigger scheme to bring back Nawaz Sharif and allow him to run his party’s election campaign. However, Imran Khan’s popularity has reached heights which no politician can match. Recent by-polls in Punjab proved it. The government failed to prevent the PTI’s landslide victory despite using state machinery and other resources.

As Imran Khan himself fears for his disqualification, it is not without a reason. It is said that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif informed his close aides that Imran Khan would no longer be a threat to him and his party in the next election. A number of disqualification references and even a terrorism case have also been lodged against Imran Khan in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and courts, however, the Supreme Court will ultimately decide all of them and it could take months and years.

On the other hand, a “minus one formula” is floated before every election, under which one political leader is disqualified. Sometimes, a “minus all formula” is considered, while a “plus-all formula” is discussed and implemented at times. Before the last general election in 2018, there were rumours in the media that all major political parties would have to contest them without their heads. It was said that Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and even Imran Khan could be disqualified to contest the election. Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari faced corruption charges, but Imran Khan was not acceptable to the international and national establishments, it was said.

Rumours are rife again that a large group of legislators will leave the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) after the possible disqualification of Imran Khan. The same situation arose before the last election, which the PML-N had contested without its head, Nawaz Sharif. A large number of PML-N legislators also quit the party and joined the PTI.

Before the 2018 elections, two elections were held under Gen (retd) Kayani’s formula of “something for every party.” In 2008, though the PPP came to power, the PML-N miraculously bagged over 60 National Assembly seats. In 2013, when the PTI had become a big political force, it was given its due share in politics by handing it the most restive province of Pakistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Talk of “minus one” started when a no-confidence motion was tabled against Imran Khan. It is said the PTI would have been still in power, if it had accepted the “formula.” However, Imran Khan and his party rejected it. There are clear signs that Imran Khan will be disqualified and he would be barred from taking part in politics, while former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who has been disqualified for life, will be free to run his party’s campaign in the next election.

According to analysts, there are only 20pc chances of the survival of Imran Khan in politics because all state machinery is working against him. Almost all institutions are being used to malign his image. Even his close aides fear he might be disqualified and his party could be banned. On the other hand, Imran Khan appears to be on the back foot after the decision of the foreign funding case by the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Many people in Pakistan are not willing to believe Imran Khan could be disqualified and Nawaz Sharif would become eligible to take part in politics again. Nawaz Sharif has been disqualified by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and his review petition has also been dismissed. He was serving a 10-year term in jail when he was allowed to leave the country for treatment in the UK. He is not even on bail. If he returns to Pakistan, he will have to go to jail before applying for bail. Most people believe overturning his disqualification is impossible after the Supreme Court has rejected his review petition. However, many believe Imran Khan will be disqualified to pave the way for a general amnesty for all politicians, who have been disqualified, including Nawaz Sharif and Jahangir Tareen. However, even if Nawaz Sharif is brought back and given a free hand to run his party’s campaign, he cannot compete with the rising popularity of Imran Khan.

Imran Khan believes the recent onslaught of legal actions against him aims to force him to strike a deal with the government to nullify Nawaz Sharif’s lifetime disqualification so that both can compete in the political arena. “Under the conspiracy, Nawaz Sharif will be brought back to the country by the end of September and a character assassination campaign will be launched to malign me,” he told a public rally.

It is clear that the government and all state institutions are working to malign Imran Khan and his party. It is feared that besides his disqualification, his party could also be banned. Imran Khan appears to be besieged from all sides. Even if he is disqualified and jailed, he would remain relevant to politics, because he has no intention to leave the country and protests could erupt against any adverse decision against him.