NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 21

PM Imran Khan out of the woods?

The coalition government of Pakistan, led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and spearheaded by Prime Minister Imran Khan, is facing many challenges and until recently it seemed that it would not be able to complete its five-year constitutional tenure. However, PM Khan remains defiant and has recently made a big claim that his party would also form the next government.

The biggest threat to the PTI government after the failure of the umbrella opposition alliance, Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), is to keep unity in its ranks. A large group of disgruntled members of parliament emerged in the leadership of former confidante of Imran Khan, Jehangir Khan Tareen. The group, which comprised Members of National and Punjab Assembly, according to different claims and estimates, numbers 30. As the federal and Punjab governments of the PTI have razor-thin majorities; therefore, it has been feared that in case the group slipped from the treasury benches, the governments would come down like a house of cards. The group, whose members have their personal and certain constituency-specific issues, came together when Jehangir Tareen, a non-MP, was prosecuted against by authorities and courts for his alleged involvement in a sugar price-hike scam. As the sugar price, a staple commodity, has been rising without control of the PTI government, the latter put the blame on the “sugar mafia” whose member is allegedly Tareen. PM Imran Khan has been in the eye of the storm for not taking decisive steps against the sugar mafia because of his former close aide’s involvement. Feeling the pressure from the media, the opposition and arguably his own conscience, PM Imran Khan took a firm stand and even made public the sugar commission report, formed to investigate the uncontrollable price of sugar.

At the moment, the Jehangir Khan Tareen (JKT) group has become relatively inactive after certain meetings with PM Imran Khan and his close confidantes. Whether the JKT group poses any threat to the government would become apparent during the budget session of the parliament in the current month. In case the JKT group does not support the treasury benches to pass the national budget, Imran Khan’s government would be in the soup. Nevertheless, there are certain legal angles of the situation. In case the JKT group refuses to support the government during the budget session, the relevant clauses of the Political Parties Act would come to play their role. According to one such clause of the law, in an event a Member of National or Provincial Assembly defies the party and does not vote and support their party, they would stand disqualified. The fears of losing membership of the legislative assembly must be very much on the minds of the members of the JKT group. Moreover, in case the members of the group tender resignations, the PTI government still could not be dislodged because then the situation would depend upon the number of MPs present and voting. All opposition groups can come together and may garner a majority but keeping in view the last nine months of the existence of the PDM and the internal strife in its leadership and parties, one is not optimistic about the opposition’s chances of dislodging the PTI governments in the Centre and Punjab. In Punjab and the Centre, the PTI may have razor-thin majorities but in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province the party has a two-third majority. Therefore, in no constitutional way the KP government could be brought down.

Another very important aspect of the situation is that if there are disgruntled MPs within the treasury, there are far more discontented and resentful members within the opposition parties. So, there are ample chances that a forward bloc may emerge in the opposition ranks and they may join ranks with the government, because the government is in a far more advantageous position to provide perks and privileges, like ministerial slots and development funds, for their constituencies and electorate. Thus, despite the opposition and many among the people who wish to bring down the PTI government, they could not see their dreams easily realized.

It seems that PM Khan is well aware of the situation and, therefore, he has become more confident and his claims of winning another term reflect the confidence. However, winning another term sounds very unrealistic, keeping in view the performance of the government in the last three years. Yes, in case the government improves its policymaking and implementation in the rest of its tenure and that too should have instant indicators, then the PTI could hope of winning the next election. Here, it is important to note that PM Imran Khan, after the emergence of the JKT group, had sensed something fishy and according to insiders decided to dissolve the National Assembly and call fresh elections. He felt that some forces within the government were creating hurdles for his government and its agenda of accountability. Consequently, when some strong guarantees and assurances were given from the powers-that-be, he decided against dissolving the National Assembly. Constitutionally, the Prime Minister has the powers to dissolve the National Assembly whenever he deems appropriate.

However, in no way the PTI government and PM Imran Khan are out of the woods and they would face tough challenges in the coming weeks and months. However, the confidence which PM Khan has started demonstrating and his body language also exudes is because of deep rifts within the opposition ranks. The opposition is not at all clear whether to bring down the PTI government. In case the PTI government is brought down, the main opposition parties, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), could not win elections singlehandedly. The PML-N may be better placed to win the election but for this it would have to win a sizable number of National Assembly seats in Sindh, KP and Balochistan provinces. Unfortunately, other than its political forte, Punjab, the PML-N may not be able to win even a handful of seats in the rest of the three provinces. The three provinces together have nearly half of the parliamentary strength of the National Assembly. The only way the opposition parties could win the next election is by contesting them as an alliance but the polarized political landscape of Pakistan and the history of animosity between the PPP and the PML-N and other small parties suggest that they could not do so. In case they contest elections as a united front, its political advantage would go to the PTI, because in the eyes of the general public almost all opposition parties, which remained in the government in the past, except the currently ruling PTI, have been involved in extensive financial corruption due to which the country and the people have suffered colossally.