Democracy in Pakistan has had a chequered and ill-fated career. Beginning in the fifties, the country saw many governments coming and going until Ayub Khan struck and introduced the basic democracies system. This system went out the window when Bhutto took over after the fall of East Pakistan. Bhutto was followed by Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law and the game of musical chairs between the PPP and the PML-N in the nineties.
After two five-year terms completed by the PPP and the PML-N from 2008 to 2018, it was hoped that democracy had finally grown firm roots. But this was not to be as proven by the events of the last few weeks. Since the day the PTI took over, the opposition chose the path of confrontation and agitation. The opposition said that the PTI government was illegitimate and called Imran Khan a selected prime minister.
An endless series of public demonstrations, street agitation and short and long marches by the opposition culminated two weeks back in the tabling of a no-confidence motion against the prime minister. Prior to that, hectic political activities were seen with PTI legislators defecting and joining the opposition alliance. Various parties and independents allied with the government also revolted. The PTI accused the opposition of trying to topple the government through horse trading and vote buying. The government also hurled charges of a foreign-backed campaign for regime change.
Things came to a head with the tabling of the no-confidence motion in the National Assembly. The government filibustered and tried to delay matters for as long as possible. The situation took a dramatic turn when the deputy speaker threw out the no-confidence motion on the ground that it was foreign-sponsored.The political crisis worsened by the day as the PDM accused PM Khan of deviation from the Constitution, while the government made a strong case of blatant interference by the US in collusion with forces opposing the PTI government.
The PTI’s fate was sealed when the Supreme Court ruled that the no-confidence vote should be immediately held. Subsequently, it was passed with 174 votes in favour and the PTI government was undone. The chapter of New Pakistan is now closed, and a new era has begun. How would one rate the PTI government?
Objectively speaking, Imran Khan failed to deliver on most of his promises not because of his lack of will or incompetence but due to the unrealistic nature of the targets he set. The task of structural reforms was much bigger than he thought it was. How could the new government have improved governance so soon, given well-entrenched mafias occupying key positions in various sectors. No doubt, the PTI government did well in meeting the challenge of the coronavirus epidemic, but it could not control the prices which dented its popularity.
With Shehbaz Sharif taking over as the new prime minister, the PDM has come into power but it remains to be seen how it will fare and even survive, given the numerous fault lines in its ranks.
The PDM is a house divided since its inception because of internal ‘trust deficit’ and disagreement on various national issues. The PML-N has not had a smooth relationship with the military establishment, with the two Sharif brothers playing good cop/bad cop. The PPP, with its government in Sindh, went its own way by getting surety from the powers that be for a larger share in the next political set-up. The JUI-F has its own axe to grind, with its chief known for his greed for power and a disdain for principles. Other constituents in the PDM have no other aim than to get a share in the perks of power.
The biggest question now uppermost in the people’s mind is how long the new PDM government will rule. Will it complete the remaining period of the current five-year term or call early elections? The current political situation is highly volatile. There is a mountain of economic problems waiting to be solved. Clearly, the prices cannot be brought down immediately as promised. Imran Khan has already taken to the streets and is mobilizing mass support to challenge the government.
By not allowing the PTI government to complete its five-year term, the PDM has shaken up the system and opened the door to political instability. A no-confidence motion is a new tool that any opposition can employ to bring down a sitting government. To cobble together a new alliance, members from the rival parties will need to be enticed and that will mean horse trading and vote buying which is against the law. It is unfortunate that the judiciary during the recent crisis did not take notice of the phenomenon. Also dangling in the air are questions pertaining to the sovereignty of parliament, supremacy of the Constitution and independence of judiciary. All these issues will need to be resolved when a new government takes over following the next elections which are not far away.