PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan was forced to seek a vote of confidence from the National Assembly after his finance minister was defeated in the senatorial elections. He has now achieved that and has shown that he still has a majority. But it should be a time of humility and soul-searching, not triumphalism. Especially since other challenges await us when the political aftershocks of the Senate elections, which revealed the fragility of his government, are unlikely to disappear quickly. Therefore, the government needs to reflect on what happened and learn from a murderous experience that forced a vote of confidence on it.
The defeat of ruling party candidate Hafeez Sheikh at the hands of opposition candidate Yousuf Raza Gilani represented one of the biggest upheavals in recent Senate electoral history. Because it became such a high ballot, as all the members of the National Assembly constitute the electoral college for the seat of Islamabads, its political impact was all the greater. He left the government reeling from the biggest political setback of his tenure. The PTI government was also unable, despite winning more seats, to ensure control of the Senate. It has 47 seats with its coalition partners while the PDM and its allies have 53.
The Prime Minister sought to blunt the opposition’s demand for a confidence vote in the Assembly by seeking one himself in advance. He obtained 178 votes in the public ballot. But here is the paradox. Rather than ending political uncertainty and ensuring stability, this can open the door to more opposition movements in a complex political chess game. The rift in the armor of the ruling parties exposed in the Senate elections has emboldened the opposition and encouraged them to step up the pressure and plan new measures.
The opposition could now move the battlefield to the Punjab after the prime ministers’ successful vote of confidence, reducing political space for a short-term no-confidence motion. A leader of the opposition has already alluded to this. The opposition knows that an uninteresting and unpopular leadership in the Punjab has made the province the Achilles heel of the ITP. The majority of governments are extremely thin in the provincial assembly and its survival hinges on the support of the PML-Q, whose leaders have long felt undervalued by the prime minister and could prove to be a wild card in any political situation. fluid.
Other political tests are looming for the government, which could have consequences.
Meanwhile, the prime ministers’ speech after the Senate election reflected the angst of a leader frustrated by what had happened and who attributed the flip side to the corrupt practices of the opposition. The tone of the sermon was familiar and repeated in his address to the National Assembly after the vote of confidence. His gratuitous criticism of the Election Commission for organizing the Senate election by secret ballot drew an unusually loud rebuke from the PCE. Yet he echoed the criticism in Parliament. There was no indication of any lessons learned or unbiased assessment of the Senate’s retreat, which is necessary given the impending election of the Senate Speaker.
Sending Sheikh to a headquarters in the capital was not a well-considered decision. As a technocrat, he faced tougher competition when the combined opposition nominated a longtime politician as a candidate. Sheikh had little or no ties to Assembly members while Gilani had worked closely with parliamentarians for many decades in politics and as prime minister. Resentment against the allocation of parliamentary seats to technocrats has long been expressed in the PTI. This had to prove to be consequent.
The government, however, sensed the vulnerability of its candidates and therefore made last-minute efforts to secure a public ballot in the Senate in the hope of preventing lawmakers from switching sides. All his maneuvers were, however, thwarted by the aborted bill to amend the constitution, an ordinance and then the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court confirming the secret ballot as prescribed by the Constitution.
Gilanis’ victory showed that the government got 11 votes less than its parliamentary support while the opposition candidate got five votes more than the PDMs in the National Assembly. This means that members of the allied PTI parties have switched sides and that several backbench PTI MPs have also defied the party line. This was acknowledged by the Prime Minister himself who later claimed that 16 members of the PTI had sold out.
It was hardly a surprise. There were signs of discontent within the ranks of the PTI and among allies of the ruling party. The chickens had come home to roost for a party leadership that still failed to address the concerns of its allies and barely found time to tackle the sources of discontent within the PTI. The House leader, for example, rarely came to the Assembly.
Although the government is now celebrating the success of the confidence vote, it would be wrong to think that its political problems are solved. His experience in the Senate elections and earlier in the by-elections should be a sobering wake-up call for the leadership and should prompt a rethinking of its political management. The legislation will be difficult to pass through Parliament as the combined opposition is numerically stronger in the Senate. That should be reason enough for her to abandon her one-sided tracks and seek to work with lawmakers both inside and outside her party.
There are other lessons for the government from the back of the Senate, which has also shown the limits of the influence of institutions. An important lesson is that political management cannot be left to the establishment. The PTI leadership should focus on resolving its political management deficit and cultivate the habit of listening to its backbenchers and listening to its allies. Being a coalition government, this should be a matter of priority, not choice. He has already seen how the loss of a few parliamentary votes can lead to a negative result. As the Prime Minister is generally inaccessible, there is no contact person within the PTI to whom backbench MPs can turn to resolve their problems.
In parliamentary politics, nothing can ever be taken for granted. The election of the president and vice-president of the Senate is the next political test looming for the government. But its most difficult and consequential test could come to the Assembly of Punjab if the opposition decides to present a motion of censure there. This could still be a game-changer.
The writer is a former ambassador to the United States, the United Kingdom and the UN.
Posted in Dawn on March 8, 2021
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