KARACHI: Yesterday’s Punjab by-polls, justifiably seen as equal to a general election, may just have spelt the end of the current PDM government.
They have for sure put an end to Hamza Shehbaz’s dreams of retaining chief ministership of Punjab. The PMLN needed to win at least 11 seats so that Hamza Shehbaz could be re-elected as Punjab chief minister while the PTI needed at least 14 for its CM candidate Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi to win the elections. The results that came in showed a triumphant PTI hitting the proverbial home run. The PMLN has conceded defeat and it is now merely a formality of a vote before the PMLQ’s Pervaiz Elahi becomes the next CM of Punjab.
Now that the biggest test of the PMLN is over, and it has spectacularly failed, the question is: what next for the PDM government? The Punjab by-polls were never just about Punjab. With such a clean sweep, the PTI will likely push for general elections soon. By most analysis, the coalition government, weak as it was, now stands on even weaker grounds and analysts are looking at a sooner-than-expected general elections as a strong possibility now —- some saying this could happen before November this year.
So, what happens to the provincial governments? Punjab is out of the PMLN’s hands. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is already with the PTI. That leaves Balochistan and Sindh. If the Punjab and KP assemblies are dissolved to make way for a general elections, Balochistan is likely to follow suit. While the PPP has been territorial about the only constituency it actually holds, this may be time when even the PPP will have to go along with dissolution of its Sindh government.
As the biggest loser in all that has transpired in the past few months, the PMLN will be looking at its coalition partners to stick by the decision of the current coalition parties. In this sense, the PPP would find it hard to justify holding on to power in Sindh. While questions have been raised over whether Pervaiz Elahi would be on board with dissolving the Punjab Assembly this soon after taking over as CM, in an interview with Geo News, he has said that if Imran were to ask him to dissolve the Punjab Assembly he would do so “in two seconds” and that, although he would “advise” Imran Khan, the final act would be as per Imran.
The PTI seems to be all set for a general elections, with its core committee meeting today to decide on the way forward. Talking to The News, PTI leader and former information minister, Fawad Chaudhry says: “The people’s verdict should be respected. The people have voted for new elections basically. All political parties should accept this reality. It is time for healing.
It is time that all political parties sit together and discuss a way forward. The PMLN has to decide whether it wants to go into the general elections on its own. The PPP should also decide if it will dissolve the Sindh Assembly and go into elections.”
For the PMLN, the biggest question is whether Nawaz Sharif finally returns from London for some damage control. There have been strong rumours of rifts within the party, even on the vote of no-confidence and the formation of the PDM government. Will the rifts grow or will the ‘other side’ now gain ground? In a tweet soon after the results became clearer, Maryam Nawaz said that “the PML-N should openly accept the result” and the people’s verdict. “In politics there is always victory and defeat.... Wherever there were weaknesses [on the PML-N’s end], efforts should be made to identify them and overcome them.”
Speaking about the fallout of Sunday’s by-polls, PMLN’s Malik Muhammad Ahmad Khan tells The News: “It’s all about numbers [in Punjab]. If we have the numbers the government would stay but if we don’t have the numbers then we can’t.
We have the option of going the PTI way and creating hurdles in government formation and making a crisis. We can always do that using our federal government position if we don’t want to play fair — but in all fairness if they have won seats through the people’s mandate, then the CM [Hamza Shehbaz] should step down and let them form a government.”
He adds that: “if the PTI wants to go for elections, and if Elahi wants to hold [the Punjab Assembly] then what’s in this for him? That’s also a question. Things will become clearer in a day or two.”
About the Centre giving up in favour of holding a general elections, the PMLN leader says that in his personal opinion “once the people have spoken, they are the sovereign and if they have spoken in favour of Imran’s narrative for general elections, then they have spoken. Then let there be a fresh mandate. Otherwise, every day there will be a new crisis”.
For political analysts and journalists who have been monitoring the Punjab by-polls, the PDM parties now also have to contend with some glaring lessons. Editor The Friday Times-NayaDaur Raza Rumi says that “The PDM parties would have sleepless nights in the days to come. First, their vote of no-confidence strategy has backfired as they underestimated the ability of Imran Khan to fight back through an effective propaganda campaign that undermined the constitutional change and termed it as a foreign conspiracy executed by the establishment and PDM. Second, the PDM overestimated the support of the establishment as they were put on the backfoot by Imran through a targeted campaign wherein he trashed neutrals day in and day out while his social media teams organized trends. Third, the IMF stabilization package that Pakistan has started implementing doubled inflation figures. All of this has led to a resounding victory for Imran’s hyperbolic narrative. The PDM will have to save its federal government, manage the damage of the potential loss of Punjab and get an IMF deal which may even be stalled due to instability. Perhaps events are moving towards a fresh reset of the chessboard and a new elections might become inevitable.”
For journalist Mehmal Sarfraz the results “are good for Pakistani politics in many ways. That the PMLN has accepted the people’s will is the right thing to do. It is time for them to introspect now because their resistance narrative was popular while their narrative now is basically directionless. That they feared what was going to happen in November means they did not trust the people’s will but wanted to avert a crisis at the cost of their political narrative”.