NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 07

Opposition claims and Senate elections

The movement of the opposition parties to oust the government of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has gathered some momentum, however, it remains to be seen that whether, as claimed by most opposition leaders, Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi’s days are numbered and he would be no more in power by January 2021, would turn out to be true or not. At the moment, one could only speculate about the unfolding of political events by approaching January next year. However, it seems that the time till early next year would be very hard for PM Khan’s government.

There are a number of reasons why it is a really challenging time for the federal government of the PTI. The foremost and immediate reason is that nearly all opposition parties have come together to join an umbrella organisation to send PM Khan home packing. The movement, named Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), has staged good public shows in Gujranwala, Karachi and Quetta and is expected to increasingly gather more people in its next public meeting in Peshawar. Gathering people by itself is not an indicator of success of the opposition groups to dislodge the government. A sitting government could not be ousted by launching a public movement that may change into a revolution to throw out the incumbent rulers. However, the opposition movement and the narrative the opposition leaders have adopted that PM Khan is merely a stooge of the military establishment has a very strong psychological impact on the government. So it is a war of nerves in which the PDM wants to engage the government and this is really a good strategy as it has also put the establishment on the defensive.

The second important challenge for the PTI government is the extremely thin majority which the party has in the National Assembly. The PTI government has been in the saddle only due to the crucial support of allied parties, particularly the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-Pakistan), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q), Grand Democratic Alliance and some independent members of the National Assembly. In case even a single of the allies bids adieu to the government of the PTI, it would be nearly impossible for it to remain in the saddle. Of late, the key ally PML-Q has stated that it may leave the ruling coalition due to the cold shoulder given to it by PM Khan. Its leaders claim that they may be part of the coalition to keep the government afloat but they are not consulted at all in key decisions of the government. Now if the PML-Q withdraws support from the PTI government, the latter may not remain in the saddle for long. The situation makes it realistic that the PTI government could be shown the door by the powers that be any time in the coming few months. This would prove the claims of the opposition parties true that PM Khan’s days are numbered. Nevertheless, one point here it is quite important to be mentioned that the coalition partners of the PTI government, including the MQM, GDA and PML-Q, are enjoying the perks and privileges of power. They won’t like to leave the government as the opposition cannot give anything material to them. The leaders of the coalition parties are playing a cat-and-mouse game with PM Khan to get more benefits of the situation. There is ample possibility that the coalition parties may not be able to have power again after fresh elections. This factor may keep all the present partners in the ruling coalition to desist from withdrawing from the government. This is a silver lining for PM Khan’s government.

The third important challenge for the present PTI government is the March 2021 Senate elections in the country. Under the procedure, 50 percent of the seats of the Senate would become vacant in March and elections would be held immediately. At the moment, the ruling party does not have a majority, even a razor-thin one, in the Senate of Pakistan, due to which it could not pass important bills from the parliament. As the electoral college for the election of senators comprises members of respective provincial assemblies, the PTI, having majority in the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and seats in Sindh and Balochistan assemblies, could expect to win the Senate election. Once the PTI has a majority in both National Assembly and Senate, PM Khan would be in control of the entire state, especially of lawmaking. No party ever in Pakistan could have its government by virtue of having a majority in the National Assembly and in the Senate of Pakistan. Political parties, whether the PML-N or the PPP (which together have ruled Pakistan seven times), which were approaching to have a majority in both houses of the parliament suddenly lost power due to one reason or the other. The PTI may suffer from the sordid reality of the political history of Pakistan. In other words, it may lose its government before the next Senate elections in March 2021. This is the reason on which the PML-N, PPP, JUI-F and other opposition parties have put their claims that PM Khan’s days are numbered. However, given the situation in the country and the stringent and vitriolic narrative which the opposition parties have adopted about the country’s security establishment, one doubts the PTI government could easily be removed before March.