It is obvious that PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s announcement that the PTI will be leaving all assemblies came as a surprise to all. But after a whole day having passed since the gauntlet was thrown, both the PTI and the sitting PDM government seem to have gone a bit quiet. Imran’s ‘political masterstroke’ per some analysts has also been seen with scepticism by other political observers who say this was just a last-ditch attempt at face-saving. The PDM government has so far managed to thwart Imran’s aggressive politics. With this last card thrown by the former prime minister, the government still has some legal recourse left. Whether it will be going for that or not is as yet unclear. On the PTI end, the senior leadership has approved the decision to dissolve both assemblies where the party rules. The government seems confident that it can out outmanoeuvre Khan on this front while the PTI believes that this will somehow force early elections across the country. However, the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) has clarified that – in the case of dissolution – an election will be held only for the dissolved assembly and not for the whole country.
Given all this, there are a number of possibilities that crop up. If the PTI manages to dissolve the Punjab and KP assemblies and the PDM is unable to stop them politically or legally, an interim government will have to be set up in both provinces with the consensus of the government and the opposition parties. Without an interim setup in both assemblies, elections cannot take place within 90 days. The opposition in both provinces, though, will be looking to create hurdles. Once the ECP holds elections in these two provinces within 90 days, whoever forms the government(s) there will do so just a few months before the general elections take place in 2023 on National Assembly seats and in Sindh and Balochistan. The question is: how does all this help the PTI? The party says it is confident that it will win elections in both provinces. While that may be fine, will the distraction of provincial assembly elections affect the PTI in the general elections on National Assembly seats? This is a valid concern, given that the party will not be in power for the interim period in the two provinces that it at the moment rules over. Provincial governments are a huge help before general elections, and the PTI will no doubt have thought of this consideration.
This may be why some observers still hold that Imran’s dissolution threat may be just that – a threat – and may not materialize in the end. If this is indeed a threat, or a face-saving manoeuvre, one hopes there is a chance that the PTI agrees to a sit-down with the PDM parties so that a dignified, practical way forward can be charted out. But if the PTI decides to go ahead with the dissolution of assemblies, it is taking a calculated risk that can go either way. With the results coming in of the first phase of the local government elections in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), things are not looking as smooth for the PTI as was being projected despite the party holding government in AJK. Could there be a surprise for the party if elections are called in Punjab and KP in the coming months? And does the PTI really wish to find out? Possibly, the thinking within the party is to remain relevant – through rallies, provincial elections, anything and everything – right up to the general elections. But the cost of relevance may just be a country dangerously destabilized and financially broken.