Noor Israr describes a titillating event Surprising electoral results
This is widely believed that Surprising electoral results in Pakistan is an extremely unpredictable place and this belief is proved again and again. This point was proved yet again when the PTI achieved remarkably surprising results in the bye-elections held in Punjab. The results were shocking for almost all segments of public opinion, and some even believe, the PTI itself. It is quite apparent that the massive sweep of PTI was simply too much to quickly digest and it is still not fully comprehended. PMLN apparently finds it inexplicable to justify the results and its leadership is simply dumbfounded including its top echelons. Moreover, both traditional and social media, were also caught unaware and still is not able to describe and define what has hit the country. This state of disbelief is natural as Punjab is the lynchpin of politics in Pakistan and all paths to Islamabad traverse through it. The past very poignantly points out that political opposition from Punjab has often unraveled federal politics and this reality has decisively impacted the politics in the country.
The general impression created by this result that the voters did not like the unpopular decisions of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz both on economic and political fronts and they were allowing the inflationary trend to continue to ward off economic meltdown and giving its tickets to PTI turncoats. It is required to be mentioned that Imran Khan led a vigorous campaign against those who had ditched the party during the first poll for chief minister on 16 April and voted for Hamza Shehbaz. He had also been targeting the establishment for not siding with him in foiling the conspiracy the PML-N, PPP and other parties had hatched with the help of the United States to oust him from the office of the prime minister. Many observers however point out that rising inflation graph cost the PML-N more than Khan’s narrative. Inflation, which had been a drawback of the PTI government and had been repeatedly targeted by then opposition PMLN, came to haunt the latter when it took the reins of the country 9 April.
The prevailing sentiment was that instead of providing them relief from the wrong economic decisions taken by the PTI government the Shehbaz government aggravated their economic affliction by blindly following the IMF. The coalition government popularised Imran Khan’s narrative by taking the anti-masses, unpopular decisions and that too after weeks of confusion and reluctance that accelerated the economic meltdown. It is pointed out that politically it was more suited for them to go for new elections soon after Imran Khan’s ouster from power rather than owning the unpopular decisions of the last PTI government. By taking over the reins of government the PMLN not only absolved the former PTI government from all its omissions and commissions but also willingly took the entire burden of the wrongs done by their predecessors resulting in devastating situation for the PMLN. It is also added that unlike the PTI which was clear in its target, there was confusion and division in the PMLN ranks about the backing of the former PTI MPAs given party tickets for the by-polls. Sensing this division and mobilising its cadre, the PMLN high command had warned that the district and divisional leaderships would be shown the door in case of defeat in their respective areas.
The bye-elections were held for 20 provincial assembly seats though all the seats the PTI claimed on 17 July either directly belonged to the party or were won by the independents that later joined it during the government formation process. The PTI-PML-Q alliance has improved its tally from 173 before the bye-election and crossed the magical number of 186 to form its government in the province. The most upsetting factor for the PMLN appears to be that it has lost polls to PTI right in its citadel Lahore that it frequently boasted was unconquerable. Moreover, it also could not garner enough support to win the elections in other central Punjab urban centres that also dampened the morale of the party leadership. It is therefore commented that with the potential loss of Punjab and PTI ruling in other two provinces will leave very limited space for PMLN to operate. The kind of pressure Imran Khan is able to exert may not be sustained by the federal government for very long and it may soon be on its knees. The PTI’s demand to hold general elections may be quite possible to achieve if the three provincial assemblies are dissolved on its behest in which the coalition forces may go in with plenty of negative extra baggage. There could be further trouble on the financial front as the ensuing political instability may compel the foreign government and international financial agencies to come forward and extend their assistance to an unstable government facing financial crunch.
On the other hand former prime minister and senior PMLN leader Shahid Khaqan Abbasi asserted that the current coalition government would complete its term and remain in power till 17 August, 2023. He flatly dismissed the possibility of the country heading into early elections, saying that the incumbent government was ten times better than the PTI on all fronts. He added that the government took difficult decisions to save the economy as Imran Khan’s policies had played havoc with the budgetary policies of the country with the result that the Pakistan has to keep paying its price. The stance taken by the former PM was echoed by all parties of the coalition government as they insisted the results of the by-elections in Punjab are not at all a barometer of popularity for any party. This assertion came on the heels of a high-level meeting called by Shehbaz Sharif that was attended by the top leadership of the coalition allies, including PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari, PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, JWP leader Shahzain Bugti, MQM-P’s Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and a number of other leaders.
The coalition partners came out in the open by stating that the government wanted parliament’s decisions to be respected and that it cannot be that parliament takes some decision in the larger interest of the country and it is later undone. Elaborating this stance it was mentioned that the allies had reservations about the court’s interpretation of Article 63-A of the Constitution. In the 3-2 split verdict, the court ruled that the votes of defecting lawmakers will not be counted, the retroactive application of which led to the de-seating of the 25 PTI dissident lawmakers who voted for Hamza. In this context it was mentioned that a review petition in that connection was pending with the top court. The coalition also expressed disappointment at the fact that Imran Khan and his party were using the court as a shield to mess with the Constitution and make the court appear controversial. The coalition partners strongly pointed out that what Imran Khan and his party said and did could be quickly termed as traitorous if uttered by anyone else but not Imran Khan.
The political instability has badly impacted the economic scenario as the stock market is consistently declining and the rupee is practically in a free fall and has reached its historic low at Rs.222 to a dollar. Pakistan Stock Exchange is losing liquidity by the day by large margin and there appears to be no sign of it stabilising. Another blow experienced by the financial world was the downgrading of Pakistan’s outlook from stable to negative by international rating agency Fitch. It is mentioned in this context that banks were using the political situation as an excuse and were involved in speculation in the currency market. It is also pointed out that the State Bank of Pakistan should take notice of this and immediately impose restrictions on forward booking of dollars to put an end to the unnecessary rise in the value of dollar in the market. TW