Dr. Tahseen Mahmood Aslam describes tough & Crucial by-elections in Punjab
The Crucial by-elections in Punjab & political situation are still dicey as the future of the incumbent government in Punjab is still uncertain. Apparently, the fate of Hamza Shahbaz’s government hinges on the provincial by-elections scheduled to be held on 17 July 2022. As is quite obvious these by-elections have attracted national attention as their impact is anticipated to be felt beyond Punjab. The by-elections were necessitated after the Election Commission of Pakistan de-seated a number of rebel PTI provincial lawmakers for voting against the party line. It must be kept in view that the PMLN had won almost all by-elections in the past during the PTI government but situation has now altered after the PMLN has formed government. In the 20 by-elections in four urban and 16 rural, with the inevitable spillover of an urban area or two in some Punjab Assembly constituencies, voters will decide which way the provincial politics will head in future.
Many observers point out that the results of the by-polls and subsequent re-election for the Punjab chief minister on 22 July, will hopefully settle the administrative confusion that has affected governance in Pakistan’s most populous province. It is also emphasised by many observers that the provincial by-elections will prove a litmus test for PTI as well as PMLN that would reflect which way the political winds are blowing in Punjab and it may well end the current spell of national uncertainty. In the current scenario the position of Punjab chief minister is backed by the parties of the former PDM along with some other allies and is holding on to this position with a razor-thin majority in the provincial legislature. Stakes therefore are quite high for Hamza Shehbaz as any adverse result of the elections would spell the end of his dispensation and would probably pave the way for Pervez Ellahi and, in case it does not happen, then any other nominee of PTI to become the new chief minister of Punjab. However, if Hamza Shehbaz comes home successful then it will become easier for PMLN to contest the next general election.
PTI is also taking the issue seriously and Imran Khan is currently on a whistle-stop tour of Punjab harshly castigating the turn-coats and blaming the forces that perpetrated his ouster from power. Keeping in view the prevailing inflation that has gone even higher turning the public opinion against the incumbent coalition government and this factor could be seen in the rising popularity of Imran Khan who is drawing large crowds. Imran Khan’s bulging popularity has become quite a cause of concern for the coalition parties, particularly PMLN, where slowly the panic is setting in. One factor that is making the situation more cumbersome is the incredibly polarised political atmosphere, particularly in Punjab, that has exerted tremendous pressure on the provincial administration, and by extension, the forces that matter in the country. The people responsible for maintaining law and order are also taking into consideration the violence witnessed during the first phase of local body elections in Sindh.
The current dispensations, both in Punjab and the federation, are badly embroiled in rising global energy and food prices that have resulted widespread power cuts and brutal price hikes in Pakistan that has taken inflation to unprecedented levels simply unbearable for the people. Though Hamza Shehbaz appeared confident that the coalition will score a major win simply because that the electorate of Punjab is well aware of PMLN’s record of public service but his claims ring hollow in wake of the current economic difficulties experienced by the people. There is a growing dissatisfaction over the inept handling of the economic situation particularly the failure of the government to sign an accord with the IMF. People feel betrayed as they were asked to cough out more money in order to meet the demands of the IMF but still there is no accord. They also do not trust any assurance given by the government that it will soon unveil a large relief package for the people as all signs point that it may not be possible to do so.
The feeling is rampant that the forces that matter in the country will use their typical methods to win the by-elections for the PMLN. Many observers express their worry that any interference of this nature would further bring down their stock and may make it more difficult for them to keep their power to arbitrate intact. It is quite obvious that the influence exerted by official means may prove counterproductive this time including their ability to lock up political opponents, crush dissent and dissidents including riding roughshod over independent media. But the problem is that in case of failure to rescue the incumbent government, the future course of action will become extremely difficult to handle. TW