Minus one chatter

12 Jul 2020

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THE last few weeks have seen feverish discussion on the possibility of a ‘minus one’ formula being applied to the PTI government. This refers to a hypothetical situation in which the ruling coalition remains on the treasury benches but replaces Prime Minister Imran Khan with some other leader of the house. As yet, there has emerged no credible evidence that would suggest that such an option is under serious consideration. However, the chatter about a ‘minus one’ formula got loud enough for the prime minister himself to refer to it in a speech on the floor of the National Assembly. This reference added fuel to the rumour and prompted speculation about a possible replacement for Mr Khan from within his party. The opposition lapped up this fear-mongering knowing that such speculation added to weakening the government.

The fact, however, is that the possibility of an in-house change happening is almost negligible. As long as the PTI forms the government, Mr Khan will remain the leader and there is no real alternative to his leadership of the party. This means all talk of ‘minus one’ is little more than idle speculation peppered with an intent to create doubts about the sustainability of the PTI government. If the PTI has an irreplaceable leader in the shape of Mr Khan, it is only following the example of most other political parties where families rule as dynasts. A handful of exceptions like the Jamaat-i-Islami may stand apart as organisations where the leadership is truly democratic, but in a majority of other parties the legitimacy of leadership is drawn from its bloodline. Prime ministers may have been knocked out of office in the past through judicial verdicts but as yet we do not have an example of a party ousting its own leader voluntarily. Mr Khan will not be an exception in all likelihood.

This does not mean that all is well in the government. Far from it. There are genuine governance issues bedevilling the ruling coalition and their parliamentary numbers look fairly vulnerable. However, it is important that the government should not become a victim of instigated instability. It has come to power through a public mandate, howsoever contested, and this means it must be allowed to govern to the best of its ability. The opposition has all the right to criticise the government’s performance but no one should have the right to try and bring down the government through machinations that fall outside the purview of democratic norms — and that could attract extra-parliamentary forces. Given our turbulent political history, it is critical that the system establishes a semblance of stability so that transitions in leadership happen according to laid-down means. The present system of checks and balances must be strengthened further so democratic systems and values take deeper root. All talk of ‘minus one’ should come to an end.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2020