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Why not call a snap election?

Updated August 11, 2017


Once again, governance is taking a back seat to politics.

As Nawaz Sharif travels down the GT Road from Islamabad to Lahore, the PML-N, its leadership, the cabinet and the party’s parliamentarians appear to have only one thing on their minds: pleasing the PML-N boss by doing whatever they can to maximise the public turnout along his route to his Raiwind home.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi has cut a lonely figure in Islamabad, seemingly left alone to steer the ship of government at a critical moment in the country’s history.

Given the controversial circumstances in which Mr Sharif has been judicially ousted from the prime ministership, it is inevitable that the PML-N will seek to demonstrate support for its leader and his continuing popularity with the party’s electoral base. What is unnecessary, undesirable and faintly undemocratic is for the party in government at the centre and in Punjab to seemingly abandon all governance priorities to cheer on Mr Sharif.

The former prime minister is also wrong in how he has cast his journey to Lahore. Roadside gatherings, speeches in city centres and slow-moving convoys are not the people’s court or the people’s verdict. The only people’s court is a general election. That option is within easy reach of Mr Sharif and the PML-N.

The party commands a majority in the National Assembly and has the right to seek the dissolution of parliament and an early election. At the moment, Mr Sharif appears to want to have his cake and eat it too. He wants the PML-N to complete the parliamentary term as the governing party while at the same time acting as an opposition party outside parliament and in the streets of Punjab. Perhaps that is to the party’s political advantage, but what is good for the PML-N is not always good for the country.

Two governments, in Islamabad and in Lahore, that are effectively paralysed because Mr Sharif wants a big political show to mark his return to Lahore is sending the wrong message. Federal ministers, some with new portfolios, others new altogether, desperately trying to impress their political boss with theatrics and gaudy roadshows is sending the wrong message. A ruling party that is in politics-only mode is sending the wrong message.

An alternative, and more sensible, approach by the PML-N would have been to set up a political committee to manage Mr Sharif’s return to Lahore and wall it off from the federal cabinet and provincial government. A federal cabinet diligently serving in Islamabad and a provincial government hard at work on the people’s affairs in Lahore while Mr Sharif travelled through the PML-N’s political heartland was administratively possible, politically manageable and democratically acceptable.

If the PML-N is happy to let politics eclipse the demands of governance, then it should go all the way and call a snap election. Enough of this political circus.

Published in Dawn, August 11th, 2017