Rocky road for PM

Published March 9, 2022

THE day of reckoning for the PTI government may be at hand with the submission of a no-trust motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan by the combined opposition after weeks of political manoeuvring and deliberations. The question now is: will he survive this move?

Even though the onus of proof that Mr Khan has lost the confidence of the National Assembly is on the opposition, the odds, at least for now, appear stacked against him. Mr Khan, facing a bigger threat from within his party, has a maximum of 21 days to defeat the motion.

The Constitution binds the speaker to summon the Assembly session not more than 14 days after receiving the requisition, which has also been filed, for a vote on the resolution after “the expiration of three days” and no “later than seven days” from the commencement of the sitting.

Explainer: How does a no-confidence motion work?

Similar moves have failed previously. Benazir Bhutto survived a no-confidence vote in 1989 though the opposition had the full backing of the then president and the establishment. Thus, the next three weeks are not only a test of Mr Khan’s capabilities to win back the support of disgruntled PTI lawmakers and keep his allies on his side but also of the opposition parties’ to retain the crucial backing of dissident treasury members until the last moment.

Indeed, a sitting government has enough clout to win back rebellious lawmakers and create divisions in the opposition. But now it is near impossible for the PM to bridge the gulf he has created between himself and his old friends Jehangir Tarin and Aleem Khan. For now, he isn’t in a position to give them what they want — Punjab — without losing the PML-Q’s support. Likewise, opposition benchers will think twice before jumping ship when the government is at its weakest.

Mr Khan may have responded to the move with characteristic bravado, but he has been betraying signs of desperation for weeks. Although there is no evidence of the establishment’s involvement in the current crisis — in fact, in a break from its usual practice, it should continue to keep away from politics for the sake of democratic traditions — the PM’s tensions with the military over the ISI chief’s appointment also appear to have cast his government in a vulnerable light. His unnecessary statement that he has until November to decide on the extension of the army chief’s tenure is also seen in this context.

Whatever the truth of his relations with the military, the opposition has used the situation to its advantage. And whether or not he survives the no-trust vote, it is time for him to think hard about the factors that have brought together a deeply divided opposition and his close associates on one platform for the purpose of ousting him. By relentlessly using NAB and other federal agencies, Mr Khan has made enemies even out of friends.

Published in Dawn, March 9th, 2022

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