FeaturedNationalVOLUME 17 ISSUE # 37

The ruling alliance’s dilemma

The coalition government is in a dilemma over holding fresh elections. Results of recent Punjab by-polls have fortified former Prime Minister Imran Khan’s position in the system. However, he may not force the government for early polls by dissolving Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies as he believes the ruling alliance will continue to lose public support over rising prices even if it completes its term till August next year. On the other hand, the government believes it has already hit the rock bottom of its popularity after taking some “harsh” decisions to revive the economy and it has no option but to complete its term and hope for the best.

Almost all parties in the government are in favour of completing its constitutional term. However, there is difference of opinion in the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif over the issue of elections. Most of its leaders claim they had been “trapped” to move a no-confidence motion against former Prime Minister Imran Khan, which paved the way for the coalition government to come to power. The party is upset after losing by-polls in Punjab. It is also disturbed over some court decisions. It wanted smooth sailing after coming to power in the Centre and Punjab, but the pan has not worked. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Punjab chief minister’s election also disappointed it.

In the situation, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif favours early elections, although his party had come to power after a nod from him and it aimed to complete its tenure. Then, the party thought the situation would become more difficult for its leaders if former Prime Minister Imran Khan was allowed to complete his term or even if he remained prime minister till October and November this year, when he could make key appointments. After the loss in Punjab by-polls, the party believes it has been “betrayed and trapped.” Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is now in favour of early polls after announcing a week ago that the government would complete its tenure and elections would be held on its scheduled time. He believes his party would continue to lose public support if it remains in power. However, he wants to return to Pakistan to take part in electioneering. PML-N leaders believe he still can revive the party’s fortunes and cases against him should be dropped to provide a level playing field to it before the next election. However, he is unlikely to get relief from courts. Even if allowed to return to Pakistan without going to jail, he cannot compete with Imran Khan and his popular narrative.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and his coalition partners believe they have taken all the worst possible decisions to revive the economy and the situation will only improve for them till the next election. They have already started working on a plan to consolidate their position in the National Assembly. The government has accepted the resignation of 11 PTI MNAs. In a bid to hold by-polls on the vacant seats, the government plans to accept resignations of all PTI MNAs in phases. However, it is still not sure about the success of its plan, as some of its recent decisions indicate that it is also getting ready for snap polls at the same time. It was widely anticipated that fuel prices would increase in August after the massive devaluation of the rupee in the recent weeks. Instead, the government slashed the price of petrol by Rs3.05 per litre and light diesel oil by Rs0.12 per litre. The government has also announced tax relief for small shopkeepers who use less than 150 units of electricity in a month. The steps indicate the government is also preparing for early elections besides working on a plan to complete its term.

As the government is weighing its options, former Prime Minister Imran is optimistic that elections will be announced in six to eight weeks. In a recent meeting with his party legislators from Punjab, he asked them to get ready for the general election. Earlier, former interior minister Sheikh Rashid claimed that matters with regards to snap polls had been settled. “Instead of by-elections, matters on new elections have been settled. The nation will soon hear about the date for elections in October, formation of a new Election Commission and a caretaker government,” he tweeted, adding that PPP leader Asif Zardari had also agreed to it. “Only JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman is left out,” he claimed.

According to media reports, backdoor talks have already started for holding early elections in the country. However, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif have differences over the date. Imran Khan wants the general election to be held in October or November, while Nawaz Sharif thinks polls in March or April 2023 will suit his party. There is also a deadlock between the two parties over the appointment of a new Chief Election Commissioner, as Imran Khan is not willing to contest elections under current Chief Election Commissioner Sikandar Sultan Raja. It is hoped all issues related to elections will be solved amicably, which not only would end political instability but also pave the way for economic stability in the country.