It was clearly a shell-shocked opposition and vociferously jubilant treasury benches that received what certainly appeared to be an unexpected result of the no-confidence resolution moved by the opposition against Senate Chairman Sadiq Sanjrani. The treasury polled nine votes more than its actual strength in the upper house, with five — presumably of the opposition’s — having been rejected. There are some questions about whys and whereofs of the rejected votes.
It was a matter of 14 votes that has done the job. When the resolution was tabled, it was supported by 64 opposition senators. But only 50 votes were cast in favour of the resolution. Were they all bought off? Or perhaps it is the first sign of a forward block in the making within the PML-N.
Or maybe it could have been a combination of both and also with some going over because of their political or personal friendship with Mr Sanjrani. But one cannot also rule out the possibility of “patriots” being pressed into service.
Remember how Musharraf had converted about a dozen or so PPPP MNAs after the 2002 elections into “patriots” to deny the PPPP a bid to form the government, and instead help a coalition led by the PML-Q to elect Zafarullah Jamali as the leader of the House with a majority of one single vote? Understandably, the opposition was so fearful of “patriotism” getting the better of even its Deputy Chairman Mandviwala that it did not allow its members to cast their votes in the second no-confidence motion.
It is certainly a serious setback for the joint opposition. It was defeated seemingly fair and square in a house in which it had a clear majority. Both Shehbaz Sharif and Bilawal Bhutto put up a brave face in front of the media reiterating their determination to continue what they said to expose the “selected” Prime Minister and his “selected” government.
But it is going to take some doing on the part of the opposition to get back to its political position that it had enjoyed before the Senate vote. It will also have to watch its members, especially those of the PML-N in the National as well as in the Punjab Assembly rather closely, so as to avert any similar shock in any future showdown in either of the two assemblies.
On the other hand, the victory did not do any good to the democratic credentials of the government as well. It is difficult to rule out the possibility that the government resorted to the ignominy of horse trading.
Of course, any drastic disruption of the ongoing democratic process would be too disastrous for the socio-economic and political well-being of the country. It is, indeed, in the vital interest of Pakistan that the country manages to get past the transfer-of-power stage, without any serious hiccups, for a third time in 2023. Till then, the PTI-led coalition government should govern, not rule, in the best of democratic traditions.
On the other hand, the opposition — acknowledged in democratic dispensations as the government-in-waiting, possessing the right to keep the incumbent government on its toes in policymaking and implementation — should ensure the legitimate government-opposition tussle does not degenerate into a free-for-all leading to political chaos, for the best interests of the democratic process.
Such sorry passes had tempted the extra-democratic forces in the past to step in and bring the democratic process to an abrupt halt to “save” the country from “dire consequences”. Whereas, on four such occasions in the past, it was proved beyond even an iota of doubt, that it becomes almost impossible for one single state institution — no matter how efficient — to govern, without the support of the people at large, causing a return to the democratic process after the dictatorship of one single institution had miserably failed to deliver.
Perhaps the lessons of the past had kept both, the democratic and extra-democratic forces bending backwards, since 2008, to support and cooperate in their own respective styles characterised by their respective institutional interests to allow the democratic process to continue willy-nilly on course.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2019.