Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has got a new lease of political life by getting a vote of confidence in the National Assembly of Pakistan on March 6, throwing down the gauntlet to the opposition parties trying to bring down the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)-led government for the last several months. The vote of confidence by an embattled PM would have profound consequences for the country in the months ahead.
Before dilating upon the consequences of PM Khan getting another confidence vote after nearly a half of the government’s constitutionally stipulated five-year tenure, it is important to briefly mention the circumstances and situation which pressurised Khan to take the vote. In the last few weeks, important political developments have taken place. The first was the election for a half of the Senate members. In a contest on a Senate seat, PTI candidate, Dr Hafeez Sheikh, who is a former adviser on finance, surprisingly lost to the combined opposition candidate, creating political instability in Pakistan, because the Electoral College for the Senate seat was the National Assembly, therefore, the defeat of the ruling party candidate meant that the Prime Minister, who is also elected by a majority of National Assembly members, had lost his majority in the House.
In the situation, PM Khan made a bold decision to take a fresh vote of confidence from the National Assembly. The decision was not merely bold but unprecedented in the Pakistani context. Never a prime minister in Pakistan’s history has decided to take a confidence vote after facing a defeat in the National Assembly on an issue or policy. The decision was unprecedented in the sense that the PTI-led coalition government has been hanging by a thread because of a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly. It may be mentioned that for a government to come to power and remain in the saddle in the House of 342-member, it requires at least 172 members on its side. Presently, the ruling coalition government, including the PTI (157 seats), Muttahida Qaumi Movement (7 seats), Pakistan Muslim League-Q and Balochistan Awami Party (5 seats each), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Awami Muslim League (one seat each) and Jamhoori Watan Party (one seat), has nearly 180 seats. Thus, the ruling coalition has a very thin majority in the National Assembly and in the situation taking a confidence vote was a daunting task. But as PM Khan is well-known for his dare-devil decisions, he took the initiative and it paid off. Otherwise, it was a risky decision in the context that any allied ruling party could have quite legally decided not to give a vote of confidence to him. The allies of the PTI have been quite unhappy, not only with the very poor performance of the government but also due to the unfulfilled promises which PM Khan had made with them. It was feared that some of the parties may not vote for him. Even members of the PTI could refuse to vote for him, given the history of politics of inducements in Pakistan. However, all PTI and allied parties members of the National Assembly voted to repose confidence in the Prime Minister.
The decision by PM Khan to take a fresh vote of confidence was not only deeply moral but also democratic. Khan, while delivering a speech to the nation after the Senate election, in which he announced his decision to get a vote of confidence, said that members of the ruling coalition, who did not vote for Dr Hafeez Shaikh in the Senate election due to which the government had to face extreme embarrassment, should also openly reject him and he would leave instead of clinging to power. It was a great offer from PM Khan and the opposition parties, together forming the so-called Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), could have capitalised on the opportunity to defeat the government and make a bid to form their coalition government. But the opposition parties knew that they did not have a majority in the National Assembly and could not defeat the ruling coalition in an open vote. They opted for a boycott of the NA session. Otherwise, in purely democratic countries this is a godsend opportunity for the opposition to edge out the sitting government and get political power.
While announcing a boycott of the NA session in which PM Khan was to get a vote of confidence, the opposition demonstrated complete political cowardice and insensitivity. The opposition parties, trying to bring down the coalition government for the last several months and failing to get any worthwhile public support in this regard, could not face the embarrassment of a political defeat. Although a political defeat cannot be a source of embarrassment for any political entity, yet the sportsman spirit should have been demonstrated in this regard. Instead of doing this, PDM head Fazlur Rahman, who is not even a member of the National Assembly, took a very sarcastic stand that the National Assembly session did not have any “legal” status in which PM Khan would take a confidence vote. Fazl and other PDM leaders, like Maryam Safdar, demanded PM Khan to resign and call fresh elections. The stand was totally unwarranted, because why would a government, which has a majority in the National Assembly and even proved afresh and had come to power through a popularly contested election, resign even after just two-and-a-half years of its five-year constitutional tenure? This is not at all a democratic attitude, which has been completely lacking within the political leaders of Pakistan. If today the PDM leadership does not recognise the legal and constitutional government of PM Khan, then what is the guarantee that tomorrow when the PDM, if it remains intact, possibly forms a government and the PTI or Imran Khan and allies would not make its status controversial? If this would be the case, then there could never be political stability in Pakistan. Pakistan is facing really daunting challenges and the political leadership must demonstrate profound sagacity and tolerance. It could only be demonstrated if they rise above their petty political issues and interests and consider that the continuity of the system is indeed very important for not only the country but also their personal political career and endeavours.