Imran Khan pulls the trigger: what next?



Ansar M Bhatti

Despite all ifs and buts and a veiled resistance from the chief ministers of the Punjab and KPK provinces the PTI Chairman Imran Khan has finally decided to call it a day. During a televised address on Saturday, he announced to dissolve both these assemblies on December 23 saying he had decided to ‘sacrifice’ his governments in the larger interest of the country. While a mixed reaction continues to pour in about this decision, Imran Khan seems to have failed those who believed he might take a big U-turn again by avoiding dissolution of the assemblies. Interestingly, the government officials have been pressing him to leave assemblies and try his luck in the elections and when he has done it, the entire official machinery is now seen taking U-turn by cursing Imran’s decision. As Imran Khan would put it, the PDM is scared of elections anticipating an ignominious defeat. That is why it wants to gain more time or at least drag the elections till October next year.

PTI Chairman was flanked by the chief ministers of Punjab and KPK, which prima facie means his decision, has a clear backing of both the heads of the provincial government. Nevertheless, the decision to dissolve assemblies on December 23 and not immediately has cast some doubts albeit Imran Khan is quite sure things will go as per his choosing come what may. While the PTI seems to link this delayed decision to the acceptance of resignations in the National, those well-connected to power corridors are of the view it was Punjab Chief Minister Peraiz Elahi who had wished to continue for at least a week if not more in order to settle his ongoing projects. The Punjab government has launched huge projects incurring a cost of billions of rupees. The Punjab CM and his cohorts perhaps were dead sure they will bring Imran round for a delayed dissolution, at least till February next year. In this case they would have enough time to execute their projects and thus make their fortunes. The KPK CM however did not lay any preconditions for the dissolution despite, or he had no guts to do so, despite the fact an early dissolution may deprive him and his team of making fortunes. Ostensibly, running a government happens to be a profitable business for those at the helm of affairs hence nobody would like to leave power.

The PDM has four days if it really wants to stymie this dissolution. They have legal options including tabling a no-trust move against the chief ministers, though legal experts believe they cannot do it when the assembly is in session. Another option turns out to be the imposition of the Governor’s Rule. The government indeed can do it but the move may backfire since there are not solid grounds available for the government to take this extreme step. The third option, which appears to be more relevant, is –re-engagement with the PTI leadership to evolve a consensus on an acceptable date for the general elections. That may be perhaps another reason that Imran Khan postponed the decision till Friday with a view to giving the dialogue another chance.

 The PML N and its allied parties are not ready for early elections simply because with the baggage of nearly eight months of governance or bad governance, they cannot face the electorates. All their tall claims made before ousting the Imran government regarding turning around the fate of this country have evaporated in the air. Going to elections under these circumstances may turn out be suicidal for the PDM.

But then that is the only way forward. Now it is up to the sitting government to rise to the occasion by sensing the gravity of the situation. By-elections in two provincial assemblies and on 123 National Assembly seats would mean about 70 percent of Pakistanis would be taking part in the electoral drill. In this scenario it would be difficult for the federal and Sindh governments to continue. As Imran Khan claimed in his speech that the former army chief Gen. ® Bajwa was solely responsible for the removal of his government and bringing in these ‘thieves’. The incoming Establishment has made it clear it would not meddle in political affairs, so when it would be PTI Vs rest of the political parties then of course PTI would have an upper hand and that is exactly where the shoe pinches. In the prevailing political situation it would be next to impossible for the PDM to defeat the PTI without any ‘alien’ support, as was the case with the PTI in the 2018 elections.

There is also a strong likelihood that the Federal govt would like to prolong a caretaker set up in case it is not able to stop the dissolution of both assemblies. The PTI chairman however warned about this during his speech saying there was no constitutional provision to linger on the by-elections beyond a period of 90 days.  We still believe holding early general elections is the only way out. Any other adventure or misadventure would only multiply the economic woes and take political instability to new heights.  Without political stability the economic stability would remain a distant dream.

All said and done, we know how quickly intentions, fortunes and alliances change in Pakistan’s politics. Therefore the PTI leadership needs to keep its fingers crossed till the time the dissolution finally takes place!!