THE PTI government has reason to gloat. Despite not having the parliamentary numbers on its side, it was successful in passing the State Bank Amendment Bill in the Senate by a slim margin of one. The opposition was left shell-shocked at this latest in a long series of humiliating defeats in the Upper House.
Prior to the vote, many opposition stalwarts were expressing confidence that they would be able to successfully block the passage of the bill and hand a stinging defeat to the government. The reality check, when it came, was appropriately harsh.
The opposition may now cry foul as usual but the fact is that it has no one to blame except itself for the defeat. How else can it justify that its own leader Yousuf Raza Gilani remained absent from the House in addition to a handful of other senators? Mr Gilani is now peddling all kinds of justifications for why he was not in attendance but it is fairly clear that if blocking this bill was as important to the opposition as it had been claiming then Mr Gilani and the others would have ensured their presence on the floor of the House. The opposition now has to put some tough questions to itself.
It may want to start by coming clean on its genuine stance on the bill. Did it really want to block the bill or was it playing politics by letting the government get it passed and then deal with the fallout? There have also been reports that both the government and the opposition were informed that passing the bill was the country’s strategic requirement because getting back into the IMF programme was a necessity. If true, this may explain the lack of urgency on the party of the opposition in ensuring the presence of all its members.
Be that as it may, the optics of the defeat are not pretty for the opposition. The defeat in many ways deflates the opposition’s claims that it is preparing to bring a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan. If it cannot even muster the numbers in a House where it has a majority, it is hardly possible for it to overturn the treasury benches’ majority in the National Assembly.
This means that despite all its bluster and threats of a long march, the opposition does not have much to show for its aggression other than empty claims and vague hopes about the neutrality of the establishment. This will come as a relief to the government at a time when it is burdened by a dismal state of economic affairs. The government can use this relief to improve its lackadaisical performance or waste it by demonising the opposition. Such relief can be temporary if the government does not get its act together and rearrange its priorities.
Published in Dawn, January 30th, 2022