The country’s parliamentary history is replete with examples of dissolution of assemblies, imposition of martial laws and proclamations of governor’s rule
ormer prime minister Imran Khan Niazi has been campaigning for snap polls since his ouster through a parliamentary vote of confidence in April 2022. Even though the situation was not promising even when he was in power, following his ouster, the country’s journey to political uncertainty and financial default has been starkly accelerated. Khan claims that early elections will help solve the country’s political crisis and economic woes. He has been constantly demanding the dissolution of the National and Provincial Assemblies and fresh polls earlier than scheduled in November 2023. However, the federal government, led by the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), under the premiership of Shahbaz Sharif, has been rejecting his demand for snap polls.
To mount pressure on the federal government to hold early elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) members of the National Assembly (MNAs) had already submitted their resignations to the speaker of the house. The PTI has now dissolved two of the country’s four provincial assemblies. The sole purpose of this move is to push the federal government to seek a fresh mandate.
Leaders of the federal government and the governments of Balochistan and Sindh have vowed that they will not hold polls before they are due in November 2023. The assemblies, they say, should complete their designated terms to bolster democracy. They also say that on account of a flailing economy and the colossal disaster caused by the flash floods mainly in its southern and western parts, the country is not in a position to hold early elections. It is, in fact, striving to stave off financial default while the rehabilitation of millions of flood affected is still pending.
To build still more pressure, Khan’s party has signalled its intention to return to the National Assembly mainly to be part of the consultation for the interim setup. To deal with the threat of a runoff vote following a failed vote of confidence in the prime minister on the direction of the president, the speaker of the National Assembly has accepted the resignations of 35 PTI MNAs while still holding on to the others. Both the PDM and the PTI are celebrating this as their victory.
Has the country ever witnessed a similar political whirlpool?
An answer to the question demands an exhaustive examination and thorough analysis of the political and parliamentary history of Pakistan. The country’s history is replete with examples of dissolution of assemblies, impositions of martial law and proclamations of governor’s rule. This is evident from the fact that none of the elected federal governments could complete their terms till 2008. In fact, only two — the PPP’s government elected in 2008 and the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PML-N) elected in 2013 — have completed their designated terms.
Three elected governments were dethroned by military dictators – in October 1958, July 1977 and October 1999. The presidents dissolved the National Assembly on four occasions — on May 20, 1988; August 6, 1990; April 18, 1993; and November 5, 1996. In addition to this, Ghulam Muhammad, the then governor general, had dissolved the constituent assembly on October 24, 1954.
On the occasions of imposition of martial laws (1958, 1977, and 1999), governor’s rule was proclaimed by the rulers under one pretext or the other. Apart from this, all provincial governments/ assemblies have tasted the governor’s rule. In the Punjab, the governor’s rule was imposed twice — from January 25, 1949 to April 5, 1951 and February 25, 2009 to March 30, 2009; in Sindh, there have been three instances of governor’s rule under Mian Aminuddin (1951), Lt Gen Rahimud Din Khan (1988), and Lt Gen Moinud Din Haider (1998); in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, governor’s rule was imposed twice — from February 16, 1975 to May 3, 1975 and from February 25, 1994 to April 24, 1994; and Balochistan was under governor’s rule twice — from February 13, 1973 to April 27, 1973 and from December 31, 1975 to December 6, 1976.
An objective analysis suggests that the country has never been in this kind of political whirlpool where two of the country’s four provincial assemblies have been dissolved on the advice of the chief ministers (CMs). Both the chief ministers have acted upon the directive of the PTI chairman to press for early elections. They hold that the only viable solution to the current political and economic woes lies in snap polls. The party with the fresh mandate, they say, will be able to take major decisions on political and economic fronts.
Rejecting Khan’s demand for early elections and his narrative, the PDM and the PPP argue that snap polls will further exacerbate the economic crisis — likely pushing the country further to the brink of financial default. Their leaders say that the assembly should complete its term. This way, they will get enough time to convince the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Pakistan’s friends (donor countries) to help the country bail out. They are loath to dissolve the assembly. That is apparently why the speaker has accepted the resignations of 35 more MNAs.
In my humble opinion, Imran Khan’s popularity is pushing him to demand early elections. He is confident of winning the early polls. He may be worried that a delay may not work for him. On the other hand, the unpopularity of the PDM and the PPP is stopping them. They are afraid of losing the elections and are using various tactics to buy time.
The country may or may not go for snap polls. Given the great uncertainty, it is hard to predict. However, Pakistan and its people will be the real losers in the dirty and selfish politics that are on full display.
The writer has a PhD in history from Shanghai University. He is a lecturer at GCU, Faisalabad, and a research fellow at PIDE, Islamabad. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets at @MazharGondal87