Fahad Ali describes a
The political situation has become exceedingly complicated as the war of resignations has further divided the balance of representation in the country. It was quite surprising to witness the coalition government going on the offensive for the first time in its chequered tenure of office that apparently unnerved their opposition in the National Assembly. This development was a reversal of roles for both the government and opposition raising the ante for political maneuvering in the country and may well prove quite difficult to tackle. Interestingly the issue of resignations of PTI lawmakers was lying dormant for a fairly long time and scant attention was paid to it conveying the impression that it had become an irrelevant prop that may have no biting effect. Apparently, the political circles had started ignoring the resignation issue and it was hardly a matter worth creating trouble. Though getting out of the assembly was widely taken as a mistaken action of an angry party leadership but it was also presumed to be used as a potent ploy to put pressure on the coalition government to hold early elections. By the looks of it the chances of early elections look remote as the ruling coalition does not consider them conducive to their re-election prospects.
All of a sudden this issue came alive when the coalition government accepted the resignations tendered by the PTI and caught the party on the wrong foot. To many political analysts the step taken by the coalition was aimed to preclude the possibility of a no-confidence motion against the incumbent PM that PTI leadership was threatening. A no-confidence motion would have put the ruling coalition in a good deal of difficulty as it gained the government through a razor-thin margin of majority that was presumably in the risk of being manipulated. This risk was quite ominous keeping in view a similar action having achieved success just few months before. It was also evident that signs of political engineering had started to re-emerge and it was considered essential to hold such an activity in its tracks. Keeping this factor in view the reaction of the coalition government is justified by its supporters and they consider it an essential tactic. They also point out that the aggressive posture and actions of the PTI required to be met head-on and that they were left with no option but to resort to such act.
As is the wont in Pakistan both sides are blaming each other for creating difficulties without realising that they were solely responsible for this state of affairs. Another curious twist came in the story when the PTI decided to send back its remaining members of parliament to the assembly but then the rumour spread that the government was preparing to accept the resignations of them and ask the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to notify them. This rumour prompted the PTI leadership to cry foul and pointed out that the purpose of PTI members going back to the assembly was to oust Raja Riaz from the position of the opposition leader. The leadership insisted that removing Raja Riaz was the only motive to go back otherwise the party has no other reason to return to the house.
It was reported in this context that with PTI dissident Raja Riaz holding the parliamentary party leader’s position in the National Assembly, PTI feared that he may decide to vote in favour of the prime minister if President asked Shehbaz Sharif to take the trust vote. Raja Riaz leads the group of PTI MNAs who did not tender their resignations when the party decided to quit the assembly in the aftermath of Imran’s ouster. The rumoured action of the NA took place a day after 45 PTI MNAs sent their handwritten withdrawals to the speaker via email and demanded the nomination of a new opposition leader from among them. The PTI members also met Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) and informed him about their decision to return to the National Assembly after nine months.
The situation in this respect has taken a turn for the worse though just a week ago it was presumed that the PTI may return to the National Assembly for enforcing elections through putting parliamentary pressure on the government. This was supposedly a welcome turnaround as democratic issues should be settled through parliamentary channels and it was expected that PTI has realised this crucial point. Though the PTI never fully abandoned the lower house but still its expected return was seen as a step to pursue its political goals from within. It was manifest that without the former ruling party in the house it was practically defunct though some two dozen of its dissidents formed a ramshackle opposition to the government. PTI’s decision to resign from the parliament was widely taken as an imprudent step that was reportedly opposed by many leading PTI leadership including Pervez Khattak and Shah Mahmood Qureshi but their leader went ahead anyway.
When the hint was given for PTI’s return to the house, the sentiment in many political circles was that the party may be chastised for planning to return to parliament only when it suited it to do so but they also opined that their return would be a democratic route than turning by-elections into referendums or taking extreme measures like dissolving the provincial legislatures. Both these sentiments were justified by the supporters of the political elements on the pretext that some kind of barrage is required to be built ensuring that such willful activity does not take place again as it causes tremendous instability in the country and conveys negative impression of the country abroad. This rather normalizing intent was foiled when the NA speaker suddenly accepted resignations of PTI MNAs which were pending for months conveying the deep divisions between political perceptions in the country. It is quite evident that both sides are in no mood to alter their tiresome posturing instead of resolving their differences amicably and according to democratic norms. It is feared that matters can spiral out of control earlier than expected with lasting consequences for national stability.
The war of resignations has seen a total of 81 members of parliament being notified by the ECP as effectively resigned from the house. 131 PTI members of the National Assembly had announced mass resignations from the National Assembly in April last year, a day after party chief Imran Khan’s ouster as the prime minister through a no-confidence vote and shortly before Shehbaz Sharif was elected as his successor. The new Speaker of NA Raja Pervez Ashraf, who also remained Prime Minister, accepted the resignations of 11 members on 28 July 2022 though he was insisting till 29 December 2022 that the resignations would only be accepted once the party lawmakers verified their resignations in person on an individual basis, whereas the MNAs were adamant that they be accepted in one go. However, after stalling the process for eight months, Raja Pervez Ashraf accepted the resignations of 34 PTI MNAs on 17 January and 35 MNAs on 20 January including Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rashid, as the party hinted it would test Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif with a confidence vote. TW