A daunting task

April 17, 2022

Will the coalition of parties that succeeded in overthrowing Imran Khan’s government remain intact till the next elections?

A daunting task


ever in the history of Pakistan has a coalition involving so many parties formed a government. It is natural therefore to speculate about its chances of surviving its nominal term of about a year and half. Some analysts have predicted elections this year. I, personally, doubt that. But then this is a country where governments and loyalties change overnight.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQMP) have a history of lack of trust in one another, even internal rifts. Can they get along with one another for that long? How willing and interested are the top leaders of these parties in keeping the alliance going? If the coalition stays together till the next election, things will not be easy for former prime minister Imran Khan and his party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which currently suffers from internal challenges. But if cracks start appearing in the coalition, Khan will be the main beneficiary of the development.

History was created on April 9 and 10, when after nearly 14 hours of intense political drama, the then prime minister finally exited after being voted out by the opposition alliance and his former coalition partners. He has since been replaced by his arch political rival, Mian Shahbaz Sharif, who took oath on April 11 as the country’s 23rd prime minister.

There are all kinds of stories, mostly speculative, as to what transpired that fateful night. Certain facts are known however. Khan was informed in clear terms that under no circumstances could he drag the National Assembly session beyond April 9, failing which the Supreme Court could invoke Article 190 of the constitution that lays down that “all executive and judicial authorities throughout Pakistan shall act in aid of the Supreme Court.”

A very reliable source has disclosed that till the last minute Imran Khan insisted on ‘action’ on the controversial diplomatic cable. He was perturbed as to why the Supreme Court had not considered it worthy of consideration during its suo motu hearing following the April 3 session.

“The former prime minister was told of the consequences if Article 190 was invoked. Saner elements in the previous government and some party leaders then convinced him that the game was over, and he had to accept the outcome,” the source said.

These developments were followed by a hasty PTI decision for en masse resignations from the National Assembly despite apparent division in the party over the matter. In the end, Khan used his veto power. A factor in this decision was the response he received from his supporters who took to the streets in solidarity. Informed sources say this led him to change his mind and instead of contesting the election against Shahbaz Sharif, the party chose to hit the streets and launch a popular movement against what he called a “US-backed imported government”.

He was voted out at a time when his government was unpopular for a variety of reasons but mainly because of its utter failure to curb inflation. An untimely move by the opposition may just have given the Kaptaan a new lease of political life.

If the sole purpose of the opposition alliance was to oust Prime Minister Imran Khan, they have achieved that. But there is clearly more to it. The next general election will be the real challenge. Will the coalition of parties that overthrew Khan’s government remain intact till the next elections? This appears to be a daunting task, given the baggage of history.

In a way Imran Khan should consider himself lucky. His exit has provided him with ample opportunity to strengthen his party and bounce back, provided he plays his cards well. He was voted out at a time when his government was unpopular for a variety of reasons, mainly because of its utter failure to curb inflation. An untimely move by the opposition may just have given the Kaptaan a new lease of political life.

The burden is now on Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, about whom the opinion is clearly divided. Always regarded as a good administrator who has served the Punjab well as its chief minister, he has been accused along with his elder brother, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, of corruption.

He provided some relief to government employees (earning up to Rs 100,000 per month) and pensioners with a 10 per cent raise in salaries and pensions. What follows will be the real test.

Sharif did the right thing in immediately announcing an in-camera briefing of the Parliament’s Defence Committee on the controversial ‘diplomatic cable’. He also invited top security officials, including the army chief and the director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence and the Military Intelligence besides the foreign secretary and the then ambassador to US.

“I promise that if our involvement in any foreign conspiracy is established, I will resign,” he told the National Assembly in his speech after being elected the Leader of the House.

The outcome of the investigation could be a ‘make or break’ thing for these parties now in power. Although, it is rare for people in high offices to accept responsibility for a debacle, the findings of a high-powered commission can set the tone for the outcome of the next polls.

Imran Khan has brought forward a new political class. He still has a huge following, particularly among the urban youth that poured on to the streets in large numbers to express solidarity with him hours after he was ousted. While many of those at these rallies had not been happy with governance under his government, they still wanted him to complete five years in office.

Had he been able to complete his term, he would have been the first prime minister in 75 years to complete a full term. Instead, he became the first premier to be removed through a vote of no confidence. The action was within the framework of the constitution. Only time will tell whether it was a politically inspired move or not.

A political match has just ended. All appear to agree that the umpire remained neutral throughout the whole affair. But was the match staged for somebody’s benefit, one wonders.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst at GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets at @MazharAbbasGEO

A daunting task