Two significant abstentions of interest

The PTI senators tried hard to resist by relentless slogan chanting and crowding around the Chairman’s dais to generate appearances of total chaos. Yet exactly a day after, the government steadfastly employed its majority to get those amendments endorsed by the upper house of Parliament, which the lower house had already passed during its sitting Thursday.

 Thanks to attention-absorbing bedlam in the house, most parliamentary reporters failed to notice a highly significant development: Farooq Naik and Raza Rabbani, two veteran senators of Pakistan Peoples Party, discreetly “abstained” from voting in favour of the amendments, forcefully pushed by the government. That looked stunningly odd to the cynic in me.

After all, it is widely believed that the former president Asif Ali Zardari had originally conceived and pursued the idea of removing Imran Khan from the Prime Minister’s Office through the vote of no-confidence pushed in the National Assembly. The London-based supremo of the then largest party in the opposition, Nawaz Sharif, remained reportedly reluctant to approve the idea, initially.

 Even after getting the positive nod from Nawaz Sharif, Zardari had to work hard to persuade a large and disparate group of “allies” of the former ruling party to switch sides. He continues to relish the reputation of being the sole architect of the eleven-party government replacing Imran Khan and perceived as “guarantor” of its sustainability. But two of his veteran loyalists have not joined the government in forcefully pushing amendments in two significant laws.

One is yet not sure, whether Naik and Rabbani have decided to stay aloof for “individual reasons” or they did so with a nod from their leader. Whatever the truth, their conduct clearly conveyed that things were not very smooth and honky-dory within the ruling alliance.

After managing a hasty endorsement of the Senate for highly significant, and somewhat controversial, amendments Friday, the government was now set to immediately communicate them to the President of Pakistan for approval. But Arif Alvi, the incumbent resident of Aiwan-e-Sadr, will certainly not sign on to them, quickly.

As a diehard loyalist of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, he continues to exercise his powers to block smooth functioning of the eleven-party government, replacing his leader.  He might return these passed amendments for ‘reconsideration’ by both the houses of parliament.

But the government had already anticipated this move. A joint parliamentary sitting was summoned on May 26. Lest you forget, its session had not been “prorogued”; it was rather adjourned to meet again on May 7. The same sitting will now have the constitutional authority to enforce the same amendments, over and above the resistance that the president might put single-handedly.

Two important laws have radically been “reformed,” through the amendments the government led by Shehbaz Sharif had introduced with supersonic speed. Due to them, the Election Commission is no longer bound to ensure the use of Electronic Voting Machines (EVM) for polling and counting of the votes during forthcoming elections.

Overseas Pakistanis will also not be having the facility to poll their votes while staying put at their homes and workplaces by pushing buttons on Apps installed in their mobiles. With obsessive zeal, the Imran government had bulldozed laws to “digitalise” the electoral process. It never cared to take all political stakeholders on board before passing the enabling laws, though. It even acted stubbornly blind to Election Commission’s repeatedly written pleas that it was not appropriately equipped to ensure polling through EVMs and provide fault-free APPs to overseas Pakistanis. Visibly, the new government had just decided to ‘discard’ laws that need more time and resources for implementation in real time.

But Imran Khan and his party zealously feel that “rigging-addicted class of the rotten and corrupt politicians” hates EVMs; they demolish their hold over the electoral process. Similarly, the “pro-status-quo bureaucrats” also resent and resist the people-facilitating inventions in technology.

Large swathes of our urban middle classes hold the same views. President Alvi would thus be perceived as justified in resisting the attempt of going back to ‘primitive times.’ Even if he fails in the end, the PTI is certain to seek the Supreme Court’s intervention to nullify the amendments, passed by both the houses of parliament in haste. Such a move would surely deepen the suspicions and differences, both the Supreme Court and the government had fast been developing about each other since the removal of Imran Khan from the Prime Minister’s Office, through a vote of no confidence dealt by the national assembly in the late night of April 9, 2022.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan keeps firmly sticking to his demand that maximum in “the next six days,” the eleven-party government led by Shehbaz Sharif should announce the date of earliest possible elections. He also reiterated the vow of reaching Islamabad, “with a crowd of millions”, if his demands were not met. He had already come to Islamabad with an enraged crowd on May 25. But he left after delivering a threatening speech. Next time, he intends to stay put in Islamabad, until the government resigned to pave way for a fresh election.

A large number of Imran Khan’s followers have feverishly been spreading the story that the “surprise looking” end of the rally of May 25 had surfaced due to “solid assurances” conveyed to the former prime minister. He was given to believe that “soon” the government would announce the date of fresh elections and he didn’t need to paralyze Islamabad by crowding the “red zone” with his supporters.

In the context of concrete realities of Pakistan’s political dynamics, you don’t need to be an Aristotle to imagine “who” might have conveyed “assurances” to Imran Khan. But “they” seemed to have approached some widely read and heard journalists of their trust to deny the reality or rumour of a “deal” with the former Prime Minister.

Addressing a presser Friday, Imran Khan had contemptuously denied the story of a ‘deal’ as well. Our political scene thus remains deeply polarised and confused. Things rather look in perpetual flux. Still the Shehbaz-led government desperately continues to generate the feeling of being in control.

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