It seems as if the PTI-led coalition government of Prime Minister Imran Khan has already tumbled into the fifth year of its first term in office. Surprisingly, this is happening to a political party which came to power with the civil-military establishment rolling out the red carpet for it to route to power and the opposition judicially discredited for being grossly corrupt and assumed to be politically unpopular. Most of the top opposition leadership were facing incarceration or attending NAB courts on a daily basis.
The PTI, a youthful political party led by a globally known Mr Clean, handsome with Greek features, having proven his mettle as a global athlete of first order. A great communicator. Darling of the media. Leading a team of known experts in various fields and seemingly endowed with an ideology anchored in principles of justice and fair play.
The only chink in the PM’s political armour at the time of his inauguration was the gap of 16 votes that denied him the exclusive claim to the crown. Already burdened with scores of electable lotas who had, as usual, latched on to the winning party at the eleventh hour, the PM, therefore, had to settle for a coalition government formed with the help of political game fixers like the MQM (7 votes) and the PML-Q (5 votes) plus GDA’s 3, BNP-Mengal’s 4, an hurriedly invented BAP’s 5 and one each of Sheikh Rashid’s AML and Bugti’s JWP — each with almost impossible demands of their respective parties.
He did finally end up with a lead of 14 votes which was reduced to 12 as BNP-Mengal left the coalition last month and; a federal cabinet exceeding the 50-member mark.
In Punjab as well, PTI’s majority is too thin and in Sindh the PPP had managed to form its own government. Still, the opposition was not in a position to cause him any trouble except making high pitched noise in the National and Punjab assemblies which they have continued to do and nothing much.
All that he had needed to do in the first few months in office for smooth political sailing was to immediately hold local body polls in the three provinces that he ruled and also launch all those reforms he was talking about through those 22-years of political struggle.
Surprisingly, the PM was instead seen sleep-walking into the lobbies of national and international vested interests as he handed over party affairs to the second-tier leadership without having got it first to gel. The party immediately fell victim to infighting.
Giving an example of this infighting, Fawad Chaudhry, the Federal Minister for Science and Technology, in an interview in mid-June said: “When Asad Umar was the finance minister, Jehangir Tareen made every effort to get him removed … and when Asad Umar came back, he ousted Jehangir Tareen.” Adding, he said, multiple meetings were held between Shah Mahmood Qureshi and Tareen for reconciliation but to no avail.
“Now, it is the advisers (and special assistants) to the PM who are making decisions, while the politicians stand watching,” claimed the federal minister.
Meanwhile, Covid-19 seems to have rendered the job of governance and economic management even more arduous.
It is rather a murky political scene. No one knows with any degree of certainty who prompted Fawad to spill the beans. It could have been the all-powerful establishment. Or perhaps the PM himself for his own reasons could have signaled Fawad to kick up the controversy. The interview did seemingly force the PM out of his comfort zone. He has since spoken twice in the NA and hosted a dinner for coalition parliamentarians. Making things murkier, 14 of PTI and 5 of PML-Q did not attend the dinner.
In the first of the two NA speeches, the PM claimed he is the “only option”. What perhaps he meant was that within the PTI no one had the gumption to grab his job. And in the second he mentioned the “minus one” formula in a way that could either mean he has accepted the fiat accompli or perhaps he was warning the forces out to deny him the captaincy against the move.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2020.