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Sunday January 29, 2023

State of crisis

By Editorial Board
January 26, 2023

With the PTI’s resignations being accepted in droves every other day by the speaker of the National Assembly, the PTI rushed to withdraw over 40 resignations and asked the ECP not to denotify them even if approved by the speaker. All this would have been rather amusing if we weren’t dealing with dire crises that stem solely from such silly power games. First, the PTI resigned en masse from the National Assembly last year after the vote of no-confidence against Imran Khan. This was followed by the PDM asking them to reconsider their resignations. They did not immediately oblige. Now, after dissolving their provincial assemblies, the PTI decided a change of heart was necessary and announced it may return to the National Assembly. The reaction by the PDM? The speaker accepting PTI resignations like it was the only business of the state this week. The ECP will now have to hold by-elections on these seats. This at a time when two provincial assemblies stand dissolved, waiting for elections, and a general election not too far away – regardless of which side gets to decide when they take place.

And then, on Wednesday, a country already facing a state of political and economic crisis, caused at least partially as a result of continuous political instability, hit yet another point of crisis as the PTI’s Fawad Chaudhry was arrested from Lahore. The PTI leader was taken into custody based on an FIR filed against Chaudhry by an ECP official in Islamabad on charges of “inciting violence against a constitutional institution”. The arrest came hours after Fawad Chaudhry had warned members of the Election Commission of Pakistan along with their families of vindictive measures. While Chaudhry’s comments about the ECP, its officials and their families may have been out of line and his threats to government officials’ families even litigious, adding sedition (Section 124-A of the PPC) to the list of charges seems more like an own-goal, given the unenviable history of this colonial-era clause. We are again at a familiar place: opposition politicians facing charges of sedition. Such resort to sedition only adds yet another disturbing chapter to Pakistan’s history, in which many politicians have been termed traitors. There is nothing to be achieved from slapping labels of sedition on political leaders – no matter how much you disagree with them.

The rumours doing the rounds do not bode any better news for the PTI, even apart from Fawad Chaudhry’s contentious arrest, with the capital abuzz with speculations that Imran Khan will be arrested as well. Some observers say that it was partly because of this fear that many within the PTI as well as Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi had warned Imran not to dissolve the two provincial assemblies because holding government there gave the PTI ‘protection’ against a possible crackdown. Now, although there is a new caretaker setup in Punjab, the PTI seems to believe that elections will either not be held or they will be held ‘against’ them. One wonders what exactly they were thinking when dissolving the assemblies as their ‘ultimate trump card’. There is also the not-so-small matter now of the PTI and its relationship with the ECP. With their leaders having spent months gunning for the body that will be conducting elections, and some – like the now-arrested Fawad Chaudhry – even restorting to unsavoury jibes and threats at families of ECP officials, what will be the status of any election held by the ECP if the PTI does not like the result? It is now more than ever important for all political parties to stop playing games with the people of this country, set aside their petty egos and desperate attempts at gaining power and come up with a new charter of democracy, a new social contract, a new economic strategy. The next elections cannot possibly be held without some modicum of parliamentary behaviour among parties, and without some red lines for both the political and institutional classes. As we go into what promises to be a back-breaking economic rescue effort, squabbling politicians trying to find new ways to plunge political depths hardly inspire any confidence in the democratic system.

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