Author: Sajjad Ashraf, Singapore
After months of intense politicking, Pakistan’s opposition parties — Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Pakistan Peoples Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam — lodged a motion of ‘no confidence’ in the government of Prime Minister Imran Khan on 8 March 2022.
The speaker is obliged to call the National Assembly session no more than 14 days after the requisition. According to the rules of procedure, voting on the motion must take place between 26–30 March 2022. The opposition needs the support of 172 members of the house for the motion to succeed.
This time, the bruised opposition leadership has come back with a vengeance. They have faced a verbal onslaught that labelled them ‘thieves, thugs and looters’ since Khan entered the political sphere in 2011. Over the last few months, the opposition has become confident that it has mustered enough votes to topple the government.
The limited impact of Khan’s anti-corruption rhetoric and his inept handling of the economy has provided easy ammunition for the opposition. The perception that the military has withdrawn its support of Khan has boosted the opposition’s morale and encouraged them to push ahead.
Despite the opposition’s resolute campaign, it is the cracks within the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) that have caused concern within the ruling party. Businessman turned politician Jahangir Khan Tareen constitutes the most significant roadblock, threatening Khan’s hold on power. Jahangir Khan Tareen was arguably the most important person in the party after Khan, providing finance, resources and a certain charisma in cobbling together the PTI led coalitions at the federal and Punjab level.
The courts barred Jahangir Khan Tareen from holding any public or party office, yet he remained the driving force of PTI’s agenda during its first year in power. The two became estranged due to alleged intrigues within the administration who did not take well to Khan’s heavy reliance on Jahangir Khan Tareen. He is Pakistan’s largest sugar producer and is one of the biggest taxpayers in this tax-starved country.
With a bigger population than all other parts of the country combined, the province of Punjab holds the key to the formation of government at the federal level in Pakistan.
Khan chose one of the most lacklustre individuals, Usman Buzdar — an unknown Punjab politician, who joined the PTI a month or so before the 2018 elections as chief minister of the province. Incompetence and inconsistency are hallmarks of his administration. Though Khan continues to keep faith in Buzdar, he may be the one to go if Khan is to survive the ‘confidence’ vote. If the Khan insists that Buzdar stay, the internal party revolt will not subside. In such a state, the allied parties may jump ship too.
Jahangir Khan Tareen’s group has publicly demanded Buzdar’s removal before any talks can be initiated with the PTI leadership. This includes several sitting ministers and parliamentarians in Buzdar’s government. In another jolt to the PTI, a party bigwig and former senior minister in Punjab — Aleem Khan, considered a close friend of Imran Khan, who also invested a lot of cash in the party — announced his support for Jahangir Khan Tareen.
The widening cracks within the PTI may mark the end of the road. A significant chunk of Punjab PTI parliamentarians openly coming out against the Buzdar threatens the government.
During this fast-paced political theatre, smaller parties and many independents are still non-committal as to which way they will side. Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi — member of the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid e Azam Group), speaker of the Punjab assembly and alliance partner of the PTI — is seeking the chief minister’s post of Punjab in return for providing support to either side. But with only 10 seats in a house of 341, this is a heavy demand. Yet, this could be conceded by the opposition if a revolt within the PTI does not materialise.
The current political brawl will not end with the ‘no confidence’ motion. The economy is so fractured that the short-term populist measures the opposition parties adopted during their terms in office cannot sustain the state structure. They have actually caused the current predicament. Being an import economy, most prices are tied to dollar appreciation.
Khan was a deadlier foe in opposition than he has proved to be in the government — largely due to the inept governance and corruption within the system rather than his intent. Even most of his detractors admit that he is well-meaning. If he is toppled now, with his proven tenacity and energy, his chances of returning to power will remain high.
Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy from 2009 to 2017. He was a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service from 1973 to 2008 and served as ambassador to several countries.
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