After the vote

Published March 7, 2021

PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan may have received the vote of confidence but it does not resolve the major issues that the ruling PTI faces. By obtaining 178 votes on Saturday in the National Assembly, six more than the simple majority required, the prime minister has settled the issue of his parliamentary numbers. Perhaps he considered this to be the best way to deal with the shock defeat of his finance minister, Hafeez Sheikh, in the Senate polls. However, this vote of confidence may pale in front of the mounting difficulties staring his government in the face.

One of the most serious problems is his newfound sparring with the ECP. In his speech after obtaining the vote, the prime minister once again criticised the ECP and suggested, rather bizarrely, that the electoral body should get a secret briefing from the ‘agencies’ to understand how much money had been used in the Senate elections. By repeatedly accusing the ECP of not doing its job, Mr Khan is creating unnecessary tension with a constitutional body that has done well to take firm action against the electoral manipulation that was witnessed in the Daska by-election.

In the Senate elections too, the ECP has followed the orders of the Supreme Court and organised the elections through a secret ballot that is mandated by the Constitution. The government would be well advised to avoid a confrontation with the ECP as part of its political narrative-building.

What it should focus on instead is to bring about a comprehensive set of electoral reforms by forging a consensus among all parties in parliament. This is easier said than done but it is the only way to ensure an election that is acceptable to all. The prime minister has announced that the government would bring in electronic voting machines but this would be a hollow move if it is not part of a larger reform package that is supported by all stakeholders. The PTI government needs to review its go-it-alone policy.

This may have become even more difficult after the unpleasant incident on Saturday when PTI workers assaulted senior members of the PML-N team, including former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and party spokesperson Marriyum Aurangzeb. The incident has raised political temperatures, as well as the level of polarisation, and will make it even more improbable that the government and the opposition can forge any semblance of a working relationship.

The situation is grim. The government may need to initiate some confidence-building measures if it wants a smoother functioning of its mandate for the remaining two and half years of its term. All indications are that this may be difficult for the government to do. The system is overheating and can trigger a crisis on the smallest of pretexts. Sanity must prevail before it is too late.

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2021

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