Friday June 21, 2024

Battle for Punjab

By Editorial Board
April 06, 2022

Stage two of the tug of war over the Punjab Assembly has been no less dramatic than the beginning. First, the session scheduled for today was postponed till April 16. Then well past midnight – suspending the previous notification of postponement to April 16 – Deputy Speaker Mir Dost Muhammad Mazari issued a fresh notification under which the Punjab Assembly session will now be held today in the evening; the new CM of Punjab is also expected to be elected during it. Earlier, the crucial session to vote for the province’s next chief minister was put off on Sunday – the day the prime minister decided to take the unconstitutional step of dissolving the assembly rather than face a vote of no-confidence in the centre – caused by a ruckus in the House as female MPAs from the PML-N and PTI clashed. The Punjab tussle is between the PML-Q’s Pervaiz Elahi representing the pro-PTI group and Hamza Shahbaz of the PML-N standing as the opposition’s candidate. The PTI holds 183 seats in the House and has the support of the small number of PML-Q members who are also in the House. From a total of 371 seats, 186 are needed to attain a majority. And, with Hamza Shahbaz saying the PML-N has the support of 200 members – including the PML-N’s, the seven votes of the PPP, and votes from the dissident Aleem Khan and Jahangir Tareen groups – the race to the CM seat is close enough for discomfort within the PTI ranks.

This was one of the reasons being speculated upon on why the session of the Punjab Assembly was being postponed when the advocate general of Punjab had assured the Supreme Court that the provincial assembly would meet today as per the constitutional requirements. The last-minute reversal of the session to today is possibly due to the serious questions being raised regarding the intent of the Punjab government. We had seen a similar delay in the National Assembly session on vote of no-confidence, and we all saw where that delay ended up. There were also rumours that some members of the opposition benches would be suspended for the ruckus in Punjab Assembly. While nobody has yet been suspended, there has been a strong belief among observers that the PTI’s candidate, Pervaiz Elahi, does not have enough numbers to become the next chief minister. We are in a constitutional crisis and any delay in Punjab would further make things worse for a country where the federal government too is in a state of limbo; adding a missing chief executive of the country’s largest province to the mix is neither good politics nor good governance.

Meanwhile, in the huge divide that now exists not only between different political parties but also between factions and groups within them, Aleem Khan, a PTI member and former close ally of Imran Khan, has lashed out against him in strong language, insinuating that the prime minister’s wife’s friend Farah Khan was involved in mega corruption in Punjab. Former governor of Punjab Chaudhry Sarwar has also spoken out against the PTI government and said he felt helpless in trying to fix what was being broken. The PML-N too has continued to point to the federal government for its actions in allowing chaos to erupt in the country and how it has handled Punjab.

The main power at the moment lies with the Tareen and Aleem Khan groups who will eventually decide where they vote. For now, the balance seems to be tilted in favour of Hamza Shahbaz. The standoff in Punjab essentially comes down to the ‘smaller’ parties and groups that have become the real power-brokers in the political and constitutional crisis we find ourselves in. In what can only been seen as an indictment of the politics of today, from Pervaiz Elahi to Aleem Khan to Jahangir Tareen, these are the groups ‘larger’ parties seem to be beholden to just to get closer to power. The PTI is obviously extremely eager to hold on to Punjab now that it lacks power at the federal level. But whoever takes this much-coveted position finally should know that they will no doubt have a difficult task ahead, considering the massive administrative negligence in the province after four years of rule under Usman Buzdar.