‘PTI has lost lethal weapon of punishing rebels from its ranks’

In spite of being a celebrity sportsperson, former Prime Minister Imran Khan firmly directed parliamentarians of his party to use all possible tricks, mostly foul, to delay the election of Shehbaz Sharif, as his successor by the National Assembly of Pakistan.

Although zealously willing to execute his command, almost like followers of a cult, they eventually failed to block the inevitability to materialise Monday evening. From a House comprising 342 members, Shehbaz Sharif managed the support of 175 and became 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Technically, his election could easily be described as “unanimous,” because instead of contesting against Shehbaz Sharif, Shah Mahmood Qureshi pulled himself out of the race at the last minute. Before announcing this, he did not withdraw his papers as a candidate, formally, and suddenly decided to “boycott” a process, he believed, was being staged to prop up a “hardened criminal” to Prime Minister’s Office.


Around 120 persons, who had been elected on PTI tickets during the elections of July 2018, walked out of the house along with him. While leaving, they also kept fiercely chanting the slogan of “Azadi-Azadi (the freedom).”


Drumming this slogan, the PTI members primarily attempted to amplify recently coined narrative of their party. They furiously insist that Imran Khan’s steadfast devotion to Islam and his dedicated efforts to strengthen Pakistan’s sovereignty by pursuing an independent foreign policy had annoyed the “sole super power” of these days, i.e., the United States of America.


Washington’s slow-burn annoyance with Imran Khan was finally conveyed through a meeting that an Under Secretary of the US Statement Department held with Pakistan’s ambassador on March 7, 2022. Our ambassador instantly passed on the “threats,” allegedly transmitted through the Under Secretary, by a cipher message.


Exactly a day after, disregarding their differences all opposition parties ganged up to post a motion of no confidence against the former prime minister. The uncanny “coincidence” forced Imran Khan to smell the plot. He has not been blaming the opposition parties only, for presumably behaving like “slavish facilitators” of the American conspiracy against him. His implicitly expressed insinuations rather provoked his diehard supporters to suspect as if some powerful persons in our State institutions also acted as “co-conspirators” of the opposition parties.


Whatever the truth, the narrative spun by Imran Khan had surely charged his base or the core constituency. On Sunday night, his zealous supporters came out in big numbers all across Pakistan to express their rage. Imran Khan and his loyalists strongly feel that they can soon return to power due to the populist wave they have unleashed with an anti-America narrative. But they remain utterly confused about how and where to move from now on.


After the success of the no-confidence motion against him, Imran Khan had chaired a lengthy meeting of his party’s core committee Sunday morning. At the end of it, two of his former ministers, Fawad Chaudhry and Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, clearly told journalists on camera that instead of sitting in the National Assembly and contesting against Shehbaz Sharif, the PTI members of the lower house would resign to mobilise people for a mass movement.


By the same afternoon, however, senior members of the PTI like Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Ali Mohammad Khan began suggesting that the time was perhaps yet not ripe for en-mass resignations from the National Assembly. Besides making it hard for an “imported and installed” government by vigorously participating in parliamentary proceedings, for a while, the PTI also needs to hold big rallies in almost each city and town of Pakistan to amplify its anti-America message.


By reaching the parliament house Monday noon, almost two hours before the National Assembly was scheduled to elect his successor, Imran Khan appeared as if affirming the “second line”, originally conveyed and promoted through Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who had also been nominated to contest against Shehbaz Sharif.


After presiding over the PTI’s parliamentary party meeting, however, he decided to leave for the home while telling the reporters that he didn’t want to be part of the process, he perceived as facilitating propping of a “hardened criminal”, Shehbaz Sharif, to Prime Minister’s Office.


His leaving the parliament building unleashed rumours that instead of participating in the election for a prime minister, the PTI members were now set to submit their resignations from the National Assembly. The Speaker National Assembly had already resigned from his office. In his absence, Qasim Suri, the Deputy Speaker was constitutionally bound to preside over the National Assembly sitting, specifically summoned to elect the new leader of the house.


Suri took more than an hour to take his seat. Once the opening rites were over, instead of rushing to execute the agenda for the day, he preferred to deliver a passionate speech. Through the same, he furiously defended his decision of “rejecting” the no confidence motion on April 3. Although the Supreme Court had overruled his decision, he aggressively defended the same by flaunting an envelope that he claimed had the cipher message, our ambassador in Washington had sent to Islamabad after having a meeting with an Under Secretary of the US State Department.


After a passionate display of his patriotism, he instantly gave the floor to Shah Mahmood Qureshi. For another time, the former foreign minister delivered a yawn-inducing and unbearably lengthy speech to repeat the story of ‘Lettergate’ like a broken record. He also tried to provoke almost each leader of the opposition parties by sarcastically recalling their mutual differences in the past. After consuming more than an hour, he finally announced a boycott of the PM’s election and led his party’s walk out from the house.


Once the PTI members vacated the House, Suri also refused to preside over an election, which he strongly felt was enforced by foreign forces hostile to Pakistan and left the presiding chair for Sardar Ayaz Sadiq. Shehbaz Sharif’s election as the prime minister turned into a smooth and one-sided race after Suri’s leaving the chair.

For the moment, I don’t want to discuss the speech Shehbaz Sharif had delivered after getting elected. Far more important is to fathom the reality that by not participating in a contest for the Prime Minister’s Office Monday, the PTI had also lost the almost lethal weapon of punishing “rebels” from its ranks.


If Shah Mahmood Qureshi had eagerly contested against Shehbaz Sharif, the rebels from the PTI were bound to vote for him. If they had acted otherwise, Imran Khan could easily seek their de-seating, at least from the current National Assembly, by invoking Article 63-A of our constitution. The said article had clearly been designed to prevent floor crossing.


But the same article does not make it compulsory for rebels from within the PTI to resign from the National Assembly seats, even if their party-head asked for it. The dissidents can still walk into the House and sit like “the PTI members of the National Assembly” and participate in proceedings.


This obvious lacuna can inspire many other MNAs, elected on the PTI ticket during the elections of July 2018, not to join en-mass resignations from the National Assembly that the PTI leadership had furiously announced Monday. Shehbaz Sharif must be feeling too good and great about the said possibility.

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