Sunday June 26, 2022

Deadlines and options

By Editorial Board
May 27, 2022

It may be of some solace to the government that we are not back in 2014 at least as far as the PTI and dharnas go. That may be the only consolation for the government though – which has been admonished by most human rights activists, lawyers, and even the highest court of the land for its astoundingly overzealous response to the PTI’s ‘long march’ to Islamabad. The PTI doesn’t have much to celebrate either: PTI supporters saw their leader come to Islamabad, make a speech, and then just leave – promising to return in six days if elections are not announced by the government. Much has been said about the way the government handled the long march – and most of the indignation and outrage is well-placed and justifiable. The same can be said about the way the PTI and its supporters behaved late night Wednesday: burning trees; breaking through containers; defying court orders; at times heckling law-enforcement.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had given clear orders that the PTI be allowed to gather in a ground between the H-9 and G-9 areas of Islamabad. And yet we saw PTI supporters not only reach D-Chowk but also climb atop and break through the containers placed around it, in blatant disregard of clear orders by the apex court. In an inevitable contempt of court hearing, the Supreme Court seemed to think otherwise, dismissing the government’s contempt plea against Imran on the reasoning that perhaps the PTI chairman had not been conveyed what had been said by the court.

With no dharna, a less-than-impressive show of strength, increasing belligerence but still a favourable treatment in the courts, the PTI seems to be banking on the government buckling under pressure. But the government has responded to the PTI’s Wednesday show with refusal to give in to blackmailing and has said only the National Assembly will decide the date of the next elections. It has said that it is willing to talk to the PTI, and that one round of talks had already taken place a few days back. On Thursday, the National Assembly passed the Elections (Amendment) Bill 2022 with a majority, seeking to remove the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) in the upcoming general elections and another bill for amendments to the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO) 1999. The coalition government had used these reforms as the main reason to delay going for elections – which is why early elections are once again back in the picture.

The government has three options. One: go for early elections without presenting the federal budget, which would then be presented by a caretaker setup. Two: go for elections after presenting a budget with tough economic decisions, which will no doubt have electoral consequences for the PML-N. Three: complete their tenure and call elections next year, which is for the coalition government to decide. As things stand, it seems all these options are still as viable as they were when the Shehbaz Sharif government took oath. How long can the country stay in this limbo? With Finance Minister Miftah Ismail having announced a massive hike in the price of petroleum products, the government may just have a breakthrough with the IMF and the early elections option could once again take a back seat. Nothing is written in stone though, especially since both sides are holding on for dear life in a blinking contest that hinges on questions of neutrality and non-neutrality.