A change of government in Balochistan points out serious political uncertainty in the most impoverished, restive and largest province of Pakistan in terms of land area. A revolt in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the election of Abdul Quddus Bizenjo as chief minister could spell the revival of the Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and decline of the ruling party in the next election.
The change also highlights the importance of opposition parties in a democratic setup and teaches a lesson to the ruling party that a numerical edge does not mean a free hand to favour a few. First, the PML-N government called a no-confidence motion against its Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri as a step by the establishment to delay or sabotage Senate elections, which are due in March. Then, it blamed the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) for horse trading to deprive it of its due share in the Senate. Despite holding many lengthy meetings, the ruling party has not presented any evidence of the involvement of the establishment or horse trading by the PPP to the public. In his handwritten resignation, former Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri admitted that some of his closest colleagues had expressed their no-confidence in him. “I could not redress their grievances despite serious efforts. I attempted to take along all parties but it was not easy to lead a coalition government. I tried my best to improve law and order and succeeded to a large extent. I salute all law enforcement agencies for their efforts. I also started development projects in all districts of the province. As a large number of PMAs are dissatisfied with me, I do not wish to hang on,” he added.
Abdul Quddus Bizenjo was elected chief minister after 41 lawmakers in the 65-strong Balochistan Assembly voted for him. A number of legislators crossed the floor and voted against their party lines. MPA Manzoor Khan Kakar of the Pakhtunkhwa Milli Party (PkMAP), an ally of the PML-N, violated his party’s instruction and voted for Bizenjo. Later, he took oath as minister. The National Party, which is the third largest party in the house, had announced a boycott of the voting, but its legislators who reached the assembly voted for Bizenjo. Almost all PML-N leaders, including Nawab Jangayz Marri and Tahir Mehmood, also voted for him. Before the election of the new chief minister, the PML-N was a majority party in Balochistan with 21 members, expecting to elect at least five senators from the province in March, but after the defections it may not be able to win even a single seat from the province in the Senate. The party is left with former Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri as its only member in the provincial assembly.
The most painful aspect for the ruling party is that it has lost the coveted seat to the PML-Q, which is its archrival. Its chief minister, Sanaullah Zehri, had to step down after legislators belonging to the PML-N and allied parties had withdrawn support to him. It received another setback as it failed to manage the election of its allied party PkMAP’s Agha Syed Liaquat, who could bag only 13 votes. Bizenjo had bagged only 544 votes to win his provincial assembly seat in the 2013 election, which was a new record for the lowest votes in the country. The PML-Q had only six MPAs in the house. Bizenjo’s 41 votes from a total of 65 is an unbelievable achievement in the prevailing situation. It has given a new lease of life to his party which had almost been wiped out after the 2013 election. The party has now come at a par with the PPP and the PTI which control Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa(KP), respectively.
The election of the new chief minister also proves that the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI-F) of Maulana Fazlur Rehman cannot be trusted. It is part of the government at the Centre and Maulana Fazlur Rehman is a staunch supporter of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and defends him at all forums even on the corruption charges against him. However, his party played an important role in the ouster of PML-N Chief Minister Sanaullah Zehri and the election of his opponent Abdul Quddus Bizenjo. Now the JUI-F has the experience of working with the PML-N, the PPP and the PML-Q. Some say it will also have good relations with the PTI of Imran Khan if his party comes to power after the next election.
When the no-confidence move was initiated against Zehri, it was feared that the Balochistan Assembly would not be able to elect its new chief minister and the Senate election could be delayed. The threat has been averted for the time-being. Now the question is whether the Senate election will be held on schedule in March or the PPP, the PTI and the PML-Q will play some role to delay the process. Provincial legislatures form the electoral college for the Upper House of parliament and the problem for the PML-N is that three assemblies are controlled by opposition parties. The PPP and the PTI have expressed their support for the conduct of the Senate election on time. However, it is difficult to predict whether they will stick to their position if the situation changes and the PML-Q leadership forces its chief minister to dissolve the Balochistan Assembly to damage the PML-N’s position.
As three provincial assemblies are in the control of opposition parties, they can disrupt the Senate elections anytime or force the government to hold early polls by dissolving them. The fate of the government is in the hands of the opposition parties and the situation will become clear in February.