Speculation has been rife in the country over the past few weeks about the future of the PTI government and its survival in the face of a daunting array of problems. The opposition parties, including the PML-N and PPP, have been demanding Prime Minister Imran Khan to step down while media pundits have been holding endless debates on how the anticipated change will come about.
A host of issues have come to the fore. These include the PTI government’s failure to successfully deal with the multiple challenges affecting the well-being of 220 million Pakistanis and endless media focus on the quality of his relationship with the Establishment. Doubts and uncertainties have deepened in recent months because of the PTI administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, failure to kick-start the economy and its inability to convincingly respond to accusations of incompetence in running the affairs of the state.
It must be borne in mind that Imran Khan enjoys a thin majority in the National Assembly where the PTI has only 46 percent of the seats and depends on several smaller parties to continue in office. Recently, the BNP-Mengal left the ruling coalition, while other partners have also been making uncomfortable noises. It has encouraged the opposition parties to sharpen their attacks on the government and demand the prime minister’s resignation.
On June 28, Imran Khan hosted a dinner for lawmakers at his residence to show that he still enjoys the support of all his partners. The dinner was well attended but the Pakistan Muslim League-Q stayed away, indicating its unhappiness with the state of its relations with the PTI. The situation has been made murkier by reports of infighting within the party itself and pressure groups pushing their own agendas.
In his speech in the Parliament two days later, Imran Khan tried to dispel the impression that he was on his way out but said at the same time that he was not afraid of leaving office: “The opposition thinks that by pressuring Imran under a minus-one formula, they will be rescued. Even if I leave, nobody else will spare them. Today you’re here, tomorrow you may not be. I live in my house and bear all my own expenses except travel and security. I do this so that I am not scared about leaving the office and don’t have to compromise on my principles.”
He also reassured his party men by saying that no one can topple “our party’s government as long as we stand by our principles.” In his speeches delivered in the National Assembly on June 25 and 30, Imran Khan also rejected allegations against his government related to its performance in the spheres of domestic and foreign policy.
As things stand now, national politics is in a state of commotion with the government and the opposition engaged in a war of charges and counter-charges. The PTI is facing a barrage of criticism over its failure to deliver. It is true that the PTI had inherited an economy which was in a shambles, but the government has not performed as per people’s expectations. There is a big gap between promise and performance.
Before coming to power, Imran Khan talked of providing 10 million jobs, building five million houses and focusing on good governance and the rule of law and justice. He raised the slogan of bringing about “change” in society and transforming Pakistan into an “Islamic welfare state” on the lines of the state of Madina. His countless promises ranging from providing social justice, good governance, the rule of law and providing basic education to 25 million out-of-school children have largely remained unfulfilled.
The people have not witnessed a qualitative change in governance and the economy that they looked forward to. Imran Khan formed a large cabinet, going back on his pledge to have a small team of efficient and honest people. Within a year the size of his cabinet expanded to over 50 members, half of whom are non-elected. Governor and Chief Minister Houses, which were supposed to be converted into universities and for public use, remain under the custody of the incumbents. The VIP culture has also not been eradicated. Unchecked price hikes and a spiral of medicine, wheat, sugar and petroleum crises have further dented the government’s image.
All this has provided enough ammunition to the opposition to target the government. But, all said, the fall of the PTI government is not imminent. Although political pundits have been kite-flying, yet the Establishment seems to be still behind Imran Khan. Similarly, the talk of the “minus-one” formula is a non-starter. PML-N leader Khawaja Asif a few days ago suggested the PTI members in the National Assembly select a new leader of the House. But the plain fact is that there is no alternative to Imran Khan in the party.
The only legal and constitutional way to remove Imran Khan from the post of PM is through an in-house change. But it may not be possible because the opposition does not have the numbers to make such a move. Furthermore, with their own black record of poor governance and rampant corruption, the PML-N and PPP lack the moral credibility to stake a claim to power again.