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March 7, 2021

Political challenges ahead for PM

Top Story

March 7, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan, who on Saturday won a vote of confidence from the National Assembly three days after losing a key Senate poll in the same political battleground, faces serious challenges from the PDM in the coming weeks and months.

The office of the Senate Chairman is the immediate focus of both the government and the opposition parties. What could possibly follow later will make the Chaudhrys of Gujrat all-important for both sides.

Yousaf Raza Gillani, who defeated the government’s candidate Dr Hafeez Shaikh in a huge upset in the Senate elections, is now expected to be the PDM’s candidate for the Senate chairmanship. The Senate, even after the recent elections, still has an opposition majority with 53 senators in its ranks compared to 47 supporting the government and its allies.

The Senate chairman’s office seems an attainable target for the PDM not only because the opposition has more senators than the government and its allies but also because voting for the chairmanship of the Upper House will be by a secret ballot instead of a show of hands. However, if some hidden forces play their role as they did in the past for the same election, Sadiq Sanjrani will possibly make it.

Sadiq Sanjrani has been lucky in the past to have had the support of those who matter. But this time, the opposition is more vocal and more vigilant and some of the PDM leaders have already warned those powerful quarters to stay neutral otherwise the opposition won’t keep quiet.

Sanjrani’s conduct during the last few years has generally been seen as balanced and unbiased. He has also won the sympathy of the opposition for being courteous and respectful towards every member. He may now get some benefit for this attitude. Like the PDM, which is accused of using money to buy votes during the recent Senate elections, the PTI government can also use its resources to take advantage of secret voting in favour of Sanjrani. For some in the government, this is the best opportunity to take revenge for Dr Hafeez Shaikh’s defeat; using illegal means in the Senate chairman’s contest would be a case of “all is fair in love and war”.

Meanwhile, the MQM has already shown its keenness for the office of the deputy chairman Senate. Muttahida expects the PM to offer this slot to the party, which could otherwise be allured by the PDM to side with it in the chairman's election and in return get the deputy’s slot.

The date for the opposition’s long march has already been announced but the PDM has also marked the chief minister Punjab and speaker National Assembly as its targets, for which the PML-Q’s role will be critically important. Although PDM sources say that they have not yet contacted the Chaudhrys of Gujrat, there is now a serious chance of Ch Pervez Elahi replacing Buzdar as Punjab CM.

It is already being speculated that Prime Minister Imran Khan is considering replacing Buzdar with Elahi to pre-empt the PDM’s possible move to engage with the PML-Q for a no-confidence move against Buzdar. The Q-league’s backing not only serves as a life-support for the PTI government in Punjab Imran Khan cannot afford to lose any of his allies in the Centre too. In this situation, Pervez Elahi becomes crucially important for both the government and the PDM.

Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser is also vulnerable because to remove him, the opposition needs to move a motion in which the voting would be secret. Already the PDM has said that the NA speaker is on its target list. How the PM would pre-empt this move, only time will tell. All this and more could be avoided if the country witnesses some political engagement between the government and the opposition. However, Prime Minister Imran Khan remains adamant not to engage with the opposition, making the future political scenario of the country unpredictable and uncertain.