THE National Assembly session was prorogued on Friday for an indefinite period without passing the crucial finance bill that is a requirement for Pakistan to re-enter the IMF programme. The Fund’s board is scheduled to meet in Washington, D.C. on Jan 12 and it was expected that the government would ensure the bill is passed before then. However, this seems difficult now since officials say the National Assembly session may be called by the middle of the month.
This would imply that the government aims to persuade the IMF either to postpone its meeting or approve the programme on the commitment that the bill will be passed in the next session of the Assembly. The information minister has explained the delay by saying the bill has been sent to the Senate which can take two weeks to either add its recommendations or reject it.
However, it is also being reported that the government’s allies are still not on board with the bill. Most agree that if passed, the bill will trigger another round of inflation and extract a steep political cost for the government and its allied parties. With the second round of LG polls in KP and also in Punjab due in the coming weeks, there is genuine concern among the ruling parties about a backlash from the voters. This concern is not misplaced if the results of the first round of KP’s LG polls are anything to go by. If the allies dither, the government could have problems with parliamentary numbers. The proroguing of the National Assembly may be aimed at buying time so the government can muster the strength to get the bill passed. A failure to do so could trigger existential concerns for the government. The opposition too may use this time to woo the allies in a bid to defeat the bill.
The government has never been shy of bulldozing bills when it has had the requisite numbers. The passage of nearly three dozen bills through a joint session of parliament recently is a case in point. The government did not bother to allow a debate on the bills and preferred to use its brute majority to bulldoze them through the House. The fact that it is going slow with the finance bill may therefore indicate a degree of nervousness about the numbers.
The opposition finds itself in a convenient position. If the government fails in passing the bill, that would be considered a no-confidence move and the government would have to prove that it still enjoys the support of a majority. If it passes the bill, the political fallout would be devastating. This may be one reason why the opposition does not appear to be in any urgency to gather the numbers required to stop the bill. Politics in parliament is now being played for high stakes.
Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2022