Saturday December 02, 2023

Which way now for the PDM?

By Editorial Board
January 15, 2023

As the PML-N tries to come to terms with its ineffectual politics, while the Punjab Assembly stands dissolved and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly will either have been dissolved by the time this goes to print or will be soon, we are back to speculations over whether the PDM government will call general elections or not. The PTI seems confident that after exercising its nuclear option of dissolving both provincial assemblies, the government will be left with no choice but to go for early elections. So far, media reports indicate that the PDM government is in no mood to quit the assemblies and go for elections. There may be several reasons for this: one, the PML-N has paid a huge political cost after the vote of no-confidence and would now not want to go into elections after being blackmailed by the PTI; two, given the economic situation of the country, with more inflation on the cards, it does not suit the PDM to agree to general elections and it would rather complete its tenure; three, the government wants to wait it out to see how the cases against Imran Khan go; and four, with Nawaz Sharif still out of the country and uncertainty about his return, it is unlikely the PML-N would want to go for general elections without Nawaz leading the election campaign.

On the other hand, there is an argument for having early elections right away: if elections are held in two provinces, will the PDM government fulfil the IMF conditions when it has to contest elections in Punjab, which was once the PML-N’s stronghold? And if it cannot fulfil these conditions, Pakistan will once again be debating default. In this situation, some say it may be better to go for elections and let the new government that comes into power to implement them. Second, even if the PDM government completes its tenure, the economic conditions will not improve considerably so why wait for just a few months that can lead to more economic and political uncertainty, especially if the PTI wins again in Punjab and KP? At least now with no elections in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there are still chances that the results may not be as are being predicted at the moment and the PDM can still make a go for it.

For the PDM, both going for elections and not going for elections makes sense and it depends on what strategy they prefer but the country cannot really afford such uncertainty, given the dire economic realities that are staring us in the face. And it is because of this uncertainty that there are speculations again of a longer caretaker setup in Punjab and KP for now and later for the entire system. The PDM and PTI have to decide among themselves whether they want to keep doing politics at the cost of an economic meltdown or if they can muster up enough maturity to resolve things before it is too late. Imran may find it tough to let go of the sweet smell of success which his party has admittedly had in the past few days. Heady with victory, he has even hinted at ‘testing’ PM Shehbaz Sharif in a vote of confidence. Nothing much can come out of that, something Imran probably knows as well, since the allies within the PDM would also be wary of going for a general election at the moment. But the optics for the PDM government – and especially the PML-N – do not look good. In a talk with journalists a couple of days back, Imran also seemed to have held out an olive branch to the country’s powerbrokers: saying it would be ‘madness’ to fight with the establishment. Logic would dictate that if Imran Khan is even willing to move on and reconcile with those he had till very recently been blaming for a whole series of his political misfortunes, then talking to rival parties shouldnt be an issue, But logic has seldom found its way into Pakistani politics. With an aggressive and confident PTI, a PML-N on the backfoot led by an absent leader who somehow refuses to get back to the country, it is the economy – and consequently the people – who will end up paying a huge price for selfish politics on all sides.