AS the opposition prepares to file the motion of a vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan, here’s where the situation stands today:
1- By all accounts, the motion is almost ready. This means the drafting is in its final stages and the required signatures are in the process of being affixed. Knowledgeable sources within the opposition claim the motion will be filed early next week. That is the plan as of now, unless something unforeseen takes place over the weekend.
2- “Yes we have the numbers,” the opposition claims confidently. What does this mean in real terms? The opposition strength stands at 163 but the number may dip by two. MNA Ali Wazir is incarcerated and may not be available to vote. Another MNA from the PPP is abroad for reasons that are legal and may not allow him to return (unless something very creative can be worked out). So to reach the magic figure of 172 to de-seat PM Imran, the opposition requires 9-11 people, depending on the situation that day. But they say they have more. Here’s the interesting part: they claim their required numbers do not include the government allies MQM, PML-Q, GDA and BAP. This means the ones they have are from among the PTI ranks. If they can get support from some allies, they believe that would be a bonus.
3- But how do they have people from PTI ready to break ranks from their party and cross the aisle? It appears, as per knowledgeable sources, that the opposition has worked out a deal with these PTI MNAs. They have demanded tickets from the PML-N for the next general elections because they believe that PTI’s ticket is a losing one in Punjab. The PML-N has conducted the exercise and these PTI people have been adjusted in the relevant constituencies. The PML-N candidates from these constituencies are in the loop and the party has made individual arrangements with them to adjust them one way or another with some other incentives. The deal, as per these insiders, is done and sealed.
Does the government know who among its ranks may cross over to the opposition? Yes, it has a fair idea.
4- The umpire is neutral. That is what the opposition believes so far. This has led them to barrel ahead with their numbers game and stitch up the required majority without fear — so far — of phone calls disrupting the process. The government allies haven’t moved towards the opposition yet, but PDM leaders believe some among the allied parties will break ranks when they see that the opposition has the requisite numbers without them and the ‘neutrality’ is holding firm.
5- So why the delay in filing the motion? Fear of failure refuses to ebb away from the opposition ranks. Some say they know they have the numbers but what if these numbers don’t hold when the vote is called? What if these numbers are enticed away by the government on the quiet? What if there’s a trap, a deception, a bait-and-switch? Could the other side be indulging in subterfuge? One reason for delay is this need to be extra safe and extra cautious. This translates into the hunt for numbers that are far greater than the 9-11 required so that even if there is some attrition, they have enough people to cross the magic figure of 172. Maulana Fazlur Rehman believes he can get some PTI MNAs from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to cross over while the PPP is also trying to wean some people from Sindh. Asif Zardari believes the opposition can reach the number of 190 if all works out as planned. That’s an ambitious target, but one that is being aspired to.
6- Does the government know who among its ranks may cross over to the opposition? Yes, it has a fair idea. The negotiations and contacts between these MNAs have been discreet, but not that discreet that the government, with all the resources at its disposal, cannot find out. There may be a few who still remain in the shadows and are weighing their options, but the opposition sources say there are not counting such ‘undecided but leaning’ types among its confirmed tally. A knowledgeable source shares the anecdote of a ruling party MNA who came to someone’s house for a social call and among those gathered in the room proclaimed the strength of the government. As the host was seeing him off to the car, he asked him why he was not negotiating with the opposition for a PML-N ticket, and if he so desired, the host could facilitate. The MNA responded without a delay: “Yes please”.
7- Amid all this confidence emanating from the opposition camp, there remain a few ambiguities that it continues to grapple with. There is a body of opinion that says that not all issues need to be resolved at this stage and that the opposition should just focus on getting PM Imran out. But some of these issues remain the focus of attention.
8- Should there be an immediate election if the PM is de-seated? The opposition now claims that all parties are agreed, but there is still some residual confusion whether this is locked or still under debate. One option being looked at is that the National Assembly could be dissolved and fresh elections called while the provincial assemblies may keep functioning unless they fall as dominoes on their own.
9- Should the opposition target Speaker Asad Qaiser for a no-confidence first, or after the PM? The speaker has vast powers and he can exercise them in various ways to try and scuttle the move against the PM. He could technically also prorogue the session of the Assembly using some of these powers. Legal minds in the opposition are delving into these matters to get a clear picture. They don’t want to be caught off guard. Crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s is taking time.
10- PM Khan is a fighter. This ain’t over till it’s over.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2022