Maulana Fazlur Rehman-led Multiparty Conference (MPC) held on Wednesday could not achieve what was, nevertheless, unachievable in the first place. He had clearly wanted the joint opposition to agree to resign from the National Assembly and join his party, the JUI-F, in launching street agitation against the PTI-led coalition government with the ostensible purpose of ousting it ultimately.
The main opposition political parties — specially the PML-N and the PPP — were not interested. Neither were they interested in using the religious card against Prime Minister Imran Khan, thanks largely to young Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The MPC, however seems to have agreed to replace the Senate chairman who belongs to the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP), a member of the PTI-led coalition government.
Soon after taking oath as members of the newly-elected lower house, the leadership of the PPP and the PML-N had announced that it would like to see the PTI-led coalition government complete its full five-year term, but had at the same time warned that it would, however, keep the ruling coalition on its toes. This it did with such great gusto that the treasury benches were forced to mimic the opposition and shouted down the leader of the opposition, Shehbaz Sharif, when he rose to initiate the budget debate.
The treasury benches thought that they were paying the opposition in the same coin as a reprisal for shouting down Prime Minister Imran Khan twice — once when he stood up to thank NA members for electing him the leader of the House and again when he had wanted to speak on the subject of corruption. They were also not happy over the way State Minister for Revenue Hammad Azhar was disturbed while he was delivering the budget speech.
However, they went back to their benches soon realising that instead of governing they were actually creating unnecessary hurdles in the smooth functioning of the government itself and secondly, their behaviour inside the House was only delaying the budget debate unnecessarily.
And while the MPC did not achieve what the Maulana had intended it to achieve, it has nevertheless created enough pressure on the government to start taking quick furtive looks over its shoulders all the time. The budget debate as well had not helped the government in any way. The opposition has successfully painted the coalition government as the villain of the budget piece.
So much so that one saw the government on a vote-buying spree among its coalition partners. On its own, the PTI (having 156 seats) does not have the numbers to get any legislation passed by even simple majority in the lower House. But 27 votes of its allies give the PTI-led coalition a clear margin of 11 votes. And as expected it has already promised the MQM (7) and the PML-Q (5) one more cabinet seat each in return for their votes for the budget. The BNP-M (4) also seems to have obtained some concessions vis-à-vis its six-point demand in return for promising to vote for the budget. The BAP (5) has a nuisance value and, therefore, must have already cashed its goodwill for budget vote. And the GDA (3) too would have clinched a lucrative deal for obliging the government.
The numbers are the weakest part of the ruling coalition. Every time it would need to muster a simple majority in the House, it would find itself being forced into making unsavoury deals with at least five of its coalition partners. And what if it ran out of goodies to give, say, a year hence from now?
On the other hand, the PTI or its coalition partners do not have a single economist worth the name in their fold. Therefore, it would take some doing on the part of the government to achieve the goals it has fixed in its budget for the next fiscal year. Moreover, there is a wide gap between the ideological moorings of the PTI and that of the imported economic threesome, rendering the arrangement as completely oxymoronic, incapable of delivering. And in case the opposition brings about the proposed change in the Senate chairman’s slot, the ruling coalition would certainly come under further pressure.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 29th, 2019.