‘Willingness to face fresh election’

Only an insane “optimist” would expect a national assembly to look ‘normal’, 123 members of which (out of 342) were just not willing to attend its sittings. They had rather posted collective resignations more than a month ago. Before putting his own resignation, Qasim Suri, the former deputy speaker, also held them in order. But the new Speaker, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, overturned his decision. His interpretation of the rules justifiably desires that members, really wanting to quit, should personally appear before him to own up the resignation that has to be ‘hand-written’ anyway. While the confusion on this issue prevails, the eleven parties establishing the unity or the coalition government after removing Imran Khan from the Prime Minister’s Office through a vote of no confidence in the late night of April 9, 2022, foolishly want to sustain the illusion of business-as-usual. A session of the National Assembly is also being held to augment the same feeling.

But most members from the ruling alliance don’t feel motivated to attend its sittings. Monday afternoon the house continued to look deserted, after it resumed business after the weekend break. Not more than 54 members were present in the house. Yet the sitting continued while at least 86 members were required to establish the quorum.

Instead of embarrassing the government by pointing out the lack of quorum, two leading members of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), Ghaus Bux Meher and Dr Fehmida Mirza, opted to facilitate appearances of a “functioning parliament” by raising ticklish issues like a vibrant opposition.

They had been the allies of the Imran government and during its rule a sitting member of the national assembly from erstwhile “tribal areas”, Ali Wazir, was arrested in Karachi for delivering “seditious speeches” many months ago. Ironically, the Sindh Police established the sedition cases against him, which presumably is under the control of Pakistan Peoples’ Party, otherwise boasting to be the ultimate defender and promoter of human rights. It never pinched the conscience of Mr Meher those days. But during the National Assembly sitting on Monday, he kept wondering why the Speaker was not ensuring the presence of Ali Wazir in the House proceedings by signing a “production order,” as the assembly rules prescribe.

That provoked Mohsin Dawar, another member from erstwhile tribal areas, to deliver a forceful speech. He sounded too lethal while comparing the allegedly “seditious conduct” of Ali Wazir, with relentless accusations the former Prime Minister had been promoting against senior most representatives of national security institutions and the judiciary since removal from the prime minister’s office.

Imran Khan insists that he was not removed through a usual vote of no confidence often tabled against a prime minister in Parliamentary democracies. He holds the USA exclusively responsible for his fall and acts doubly hurt in stressing that the American conspiracy succeeded against him, because some “Mir Jaffars” in Pakistan acted like their facilitators. Lest you forget, this character had helped the East India Company to conquer Bengal in the late 1660s.

Khawaja Asif, the minister of defense, failed to provide a clear and satisfactory answer in spite of being known as a ‘blunt’ speaker. He rather employed his parliamentary experience to divert attention to a scandal highlighting “insidious patronage,” Imran Khan had allegedly been extending to a real estate tycoon. Nothing was startlingly new in the details he furnished to sound juicy and engaging. I rather found it difficult to control yawns and left the press gallery.

But the unprecedented heat wave continues to project Islamabad as a desolately haunted town. Its residents look mournfully exhausted and defeated. As if the gravity of unforgiving weather were not enough for transmitting doom and gloom, the political scene continues to deepen the anxiety as well.

Ruling the most populous province of Pakistan, Punjab, for successive two terms from 2008 to 2018 as a hands-on Chief Minister, Shehbaz Sharif had surely developed the feeling of being a doer about him. His hyperactivity also earned the title of “Shehbaz Speed.” Yet from day one of taking charge as the Prime Minister last month he began to squander the reputation of a quick decision maker. Friends or foes are simply not willing to consider the reality that he might be feeling crippled for heading an eleven-party coalition and building consensus among such a vast group of allies with contradictory priorities is almost next to impossible.

But the dispassionate observers could not disregard the fact that as a very experienced politician, he should have clearly anticipated his ‘limits’ before agreeing to replace Imran Khan. He represents a successful business family as well and needed no tutor to fathom the economic mess he was inheriting. If Shehbaz Sharif had no quick remedy for resolving accumulated issues, he should have called for a fresh election, immediately after taking over. Initially, he refused to and pretended to have discovered a magic wand for course correction and quickly moved towards the lane to stability.

The ultimate regulator of the global economy, the IMF, refused to bail him out, though. Visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE also failed to provide instant relief. In sheer panic, he then left for London mid last week to seek advice from his elder brother and former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, along with ten senior members of his cabinet.

Shehbaz Sharif and his team had spent three-days brainstorming for a viable strategy. All participants of these meetings had taken the oath of secrecy. But you don’t need any listening devices to find out that Nawaz Sharif is simply not willing to squander the “vote bank,” he had diligently been cultivating and expanding since 1985, despite rolling coaster highs and lows of his political career.

Nawaz Sharif had firmly discouraged the Prime Minister to announce massive increase in the prices of petroleum goods that too in one go, to re-engage the IMF in seeking the bailing out package for Pakistan. He also considered Ishaq Dar, the former finance minister who also is living in London these days, as a better manager when it comes to things economic and fiscal. Both of them strongly feel that instead of slavishly saying yes to the dictates of the IMF, the government led by Shehbaz Sharif should push an alternative and cleverly imagined scheme to pull Pakistan out of the dire straits.

But the ideas they had suggested also require the current government to get assurance, (you can easily guess from where), that it would be allowed to complete the constitutional term of the current National Assembly until August of 2023. That can provide ample time to stagger the burden on Pakistanis with limited incomes; also to conceive and execute ideas to kick-start the economy.

Through a vigorous campaign, however, Imran Khan continues to press for earliest possible elections and significant sections of our deep state are finding it extremely difficult to find means to effectively push him back. That has provoked Nawaz Sharif to ask his brother to refrain from preparing the budget for the coming fiscal year in the next month and convey his willingness to face the fresh election.

Before transmitting his choice to concerned and more relevant quarters, Shehbaz Sharif first needs to take all his coalition partners on board and that perpetuates the feeling of absolute chaos about his government, keeping the stock exchange bleeding and the Pak rupee ceaselessly losing its worth vis-à-vis the US dollar.

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