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July 31, 2018

Grand opposition

Editorial

 
July 31, 2018

As messy as the elections were, with every party other than the PTI alleging mass rigging, the aftermath has been even more chaotic at both the federal and provincial levels. There was originally even some doubt if the PML-N, PPP and others would appear in the National Assembly to take their oaths but at the first meeting between the two parties after the elections they decided to work together on the opposition benches. The PTI is still short of the numbers it needs to form government, making Imran Khan’s declaration that he will be sworn in as prime minister on August 11 maybe a bit premature. The party is furiously courting independents and other political parties, and it is likely it will manage to get the required numbers. But the opposition is trying to organise too. At a meeting held at Ayaz Sadiq’s home in Islamabad on Monday, the PML-N, PPP, MMA and ANP all said they would form a grand, united opposition. These four parties together will control 120 seats in the National Assembly and could be a formidable obstacle to the PTI-led government.

The real question is whether this opposition alliance can last. Right now, their one common denominator is rigging – and at the press conference after the meeting all four parties denounced the conduct of the elections. Unity forged over this one issue will be difficult to maintain, especially if the PTI starts offering plum positions in return for support. In Punjab, too, the PTI is determined to form the next government even though the PML-N won more seats. The PTI has launched a charm offensive aimed at winning over the PML-Q and independents. The numbers are so close, however, that anyone who agrees to join will surely extract their pound of flesh. The PML-Q only has eight seats in the Punjab Assembly but as the third largest party it is demanding the slot of the chief minister or deputy chief minister as a condition for its support. According to the PTI, though, the PML-Q is part of government in both the centre and Punjab. Given that, as of now, the PTI looks more likely to form the Punjab government.

The situation is clearer in the other three provinces. The PTI has a massive majority in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and doesn’t need anyone else’s support. Its only worry is that former chief minister Pervez Khattak has publicly announced he wants to keep the job and has reportedly even threatened to leave the party should it not be given to him. Balochistan will likely see a coalition government, with the ANP possibly holding the key to government formation while the PPP will head the government in Sindh. But there was a complication on Sunday when Sindh governor Mohammed Zubair announced his resignation in protest of what he called an effort to favour one political party in the elections. On Monday, he held a joint press conference with the MQM-P where he said the party had suffered losses in Karachi due to rigging. The MQM-P though seems up for grabs and we won’t know much which way it goes till after today’s meeting with the PTI’s Jahangir Tareen. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, too, the ANP is planning a protest against alleged rigging. Even though no political party seems keen on the kind of dharnas against rigging that have previously been launched by the PTI, it is clear that the issue is going to plague the new government. The legitimacy of the elections is now in question and when the new National Assembly is convened this will surely dominate the agenda. The elections were supposed to provide some clarity about the popularity of the political parties but the way in which they were conducted seem to have further muddied the waters.