NationalVOLUME 15 ISSUE # 23

The unfolding political situation in Pakistan

Although the federal coalition government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) of Prime Minister Imran Khan has been able to successfully pass its second successive budget for the financial year 2020-21, yet it could not prove its simple majority in the National Assembly, which may be quite disturbing for the ruling party. The government was able to pass the budget with 161 votes, which is well short of 172 members required to have a clear majority in the Lower House.

Generally, it is considered that if a sitting government cannot get through its financial budget with a majority vote, it is tantamount to losing confidence of the House. In case of the passage of the financial budget of year 2020-2021, although the PTI coalition government was able to pass it, yet it was with a majority of “present and voting” members of the National Assembly. It is understandable that several of the MPs of the PTI were not available for one reason or the other, but in case the party could have received 172 votes it would have been a bare minimum majority. Keeping in view the numerical strength of the PTI in the National Assembly, which is 165, it definitely requires the critical support of allies, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and a few independent MPs, to remain in power. It is important to note that all coalition partners are uneasy partners and extremely difficult to handle. Moreover, the MQM and GDA have reservations about the PTI treatment of its allies and they have been complaining of their problems and issues which do not get attention from the major coalition partner. Noticeably, the MQM has a track record of joining almost all federal governments, whether of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) and now of the PTI since early 1990s. However, it is also the record of the MQM to leave every government on many occasions. This time the situation is quite critical for Prime Minister Imran Khan as his government is entirely dependent upon the MQM, at least now after the withdrawal of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M), which recently left the ruling coalition arguing that the PTI government was not fulfilling its promises to address the issues of Balochistan.

Thus, the MQM has a commanding control in keeping the government of the PTI afloat. So democracy in Pakistan is hanging with a thread yet again, which does not augur well for the future of the country and even society. Here, it is important to note that why the MQM, a party which derives support from Urdu-speaking migrant communities in urban Sindh province, has always acted as the main buttress of coalition governments in Pakistan. Is it by design is anybody’s guess? If the MQM leaves the coalition of the PTI, it would be the last nail in the coffin of the government.

Now the situation that has emerged is very interesting for two main reasons. Firstly, PM Khan came to power with a huge promise and expectation of people to carry out large-scale reforms in the country in each and every sector, particularly establishing a viable and vibrant system of accountability, specifically to put an end to the culture of financial corruption and nepotism in the public sector.

So far, the PTI government has largely failed to fulfil the promise in its near two years in the saddle. This, in turn, has two main reasons. The first is that the main institution entrusted with the task of accountability of public officials, the National Accountability Bureau, is legally an independent body and the government does not have any commanding control over it. Nonetheless, the government can influence its decisions and operations. Unfortunately, the NAB for whatever reasons, including but not limited to, incapacity, intra-institutional corruption and lack of earnestness, could not perform even to half of public expectations. The second reason for the PTI government to promote its reform agenda has been that the government has a razor-thin majority in the National Assembly while far from having it in the Senate of Pakistan to ensure the passage of key legislation what to say of constitutional amendments, which require a two-thirds majority in both Houses of the bi-cameral parliament.

Secondly, why the unfolding political situation in the country is very interesting is that there is no option left for PM Khan and his PTI to now leave any stone unturned to bring about reforms in every sector of governance and policymaking. Keeping in view the personality of PM Khan and that his very political stature and future is at stake and he may never get any opportunity again to form the government, one expects that he would go to any length to introduce reforms and ensure accountability in each and every sector.

Therefore, in the coming months PM Khan and his cabinet could come up with drastic steps to ensure reforms in the country which may annoy many quarters. However, this is the only way forward and in the process the PTI may also lose its government. However, the forces which would try their level best to send the government of the PTI packing may find PM Khan a hard nut to crack.

Here, the PTI government may be given some concession as the country is faced with an unprecedented situation due to COVID-19, which has inflicted irreparable damage on the country’s economy. Nevertheless, the performance of the PTI before the pandemic was not at all satisfactory. Now if the opposition parties, including the PML-N, PPP, ANP, JUI-F, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and several others within the parliament and outside it, want to dislodge the government of the PTI, they do not have the requisite numbers within the National Assembly to form their own government. If somehow the opposition parties form a government, it would be extremely weak because it would be a coalition of opposite-minded outfits and thus extremely difficult rather impossible to sustain. Then, the answer would be fresh elections. The PML-N, JUI-F, JI and ANP have already started asking for snap polls. However, in the prevailing situation it is next to impossible to hold fresh elections. Moreover, fresh elections would not be a solution to the multidimensional problems facing Pakistan. In the situation, the only way forward is that the PTI remains in power but after putting its house in order and going for all-out reforms in every sector without bringing any ifs and buts into consideration.

Once it is seen that PM Khan and the PTI are now serious about bringing about reforms, even there are many conscientious and patriotic MPs within the ranks of the opposition parties to come forward and support the PTI by making a forward bloc within their respective parties. But PM Khan has to perform par excellence and that too with winding speed. Otherwise, it’s curtains for the PTI government and the future of parliamentary democracy in the country.