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Tuesday November 29, 2022

Political thriller

By Editorial Board
March 29, 2022

As if politics in the federal capital was not enough of a cliff-hanger, yesterday Punjab emerged as the new battleground between the opposition and the government. First, the PML-N submitted a motion of no-confidence against Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar in the Punjab Assembly, evidently aiming to further push Prime Minister Imran Khan into a corner. Soon enough, Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar ‘stepped down’ from office and the ruling party announced the PML-Q’s Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as its CM candidate in the largest – and, some would say, make or break – province. Just two nights back on Sunday, the prime minister had seemed unsure of surviving the vote of no-confidence. But, come Monday, he has done what many a threat didn’t seem to make him do: sacrificing CM Buzdar – or ‘Wasim-Akram Plus’ as the PM calls him – to get the coveted PML-Q support in the centre. This support though may yet to be certain, with reports of there being a split in the PML-Q itself.

The numbers for the vote of no-confidence are looking far more complicated now than what they seemed just a day ago. Though the government claims that at least 10 of its dissident members will be back, with Shahzain Bugti and some Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) members joining the opposition camp, the no-confidence vote is now seemingly touch and go on both sides. The MQM-P has said it needs another day or two to ponder over which way it will go, and there have also been reports that the PTI government may offer the MQM one more ministry.

Whatever happens in the vote of no-confidence, it is clear that the PTI government is playing on an extremely weak pitch – essentially handing over control of their government in Punjab to the PML-Q, and still having to run after allies that have left it in the centre. It will also be interesting to see if the PM’s claims of a foreign conspiracy against his government will continue after – and if – the ruling party gets support from the PML-Q in the centre. It would be quite understandable if PTI insiders were worried about the party’s future – regardless of which way the vote of no-confidence goes. The calculations made to stay around for just another year and a half seem almost desperate. Giving up the Punjab CM seat will only benefit the PML-Q who may be able to get quite a few PTI members on their side come elections, especially those who will not be accommodated by the opposition and who do not want to contest on a PTI ticket.

If the government does survive in the centre, it will be an even weaker coalition, stitched together for survival. This could backfire. But for the moment, at least, the PTI has somewhat ‘saved’ its government in Punjab. The no-confidence vote will most likely take place next week, and the next few days are crucial as far as the numbers go. The uncertainty continues.

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