Who’ll rule Punjab?

Published April 1, 2022

WITH the government at the centre on its way out, is PTI left with any tricks at all to prevent Punjab from falling into the lap of the opposition political parties? The PTI and its leader have already shown their ‘trump card’ in the province by letting go off their reclusive and unpopular Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and replacing him with the PML-Q’s Pervaiz Elahi. The common view is that the prime minister played his hand a little too late, allowing the wily Chaudhries of Gujrat only limited time to manoeuvre a victory by bringing around the PTI’s dissident provincial lawmakers — whose main demand pertaining to the removal of Mr Buzdar has been met — and luring some opposition MPAs, in order to achieve the required number of 186 to win the vote of confidence for Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi. The opinion, however, is divided on whether the PTI would have been in a better position in the province, and at the centre today had it ceded to the PML-Q’s demands earlier. With Prime Minister Imran Khan’s political fortunes declining fast and the exit of the MQM-P from the coalition in Islamabad finally sealing his fate, few believe he could have thwarted the opposition assault against his party’s provincial government.

To give the Chaudhries credit for their tenacity, it must be acknowledged that they remain undaunted by the developments in the federal capital or the enormity of the task ahead. They have already stepped up their game by contacting PTI dissidents individually, as well as reaching out to their leader Jehangir Khan Tareen for the group’s en masse support. The combined opposition is also not taking the challenge lightly, despite their confidence that the Tareen group will ultimately side with them in Punjab as at the centre. But will it? That the Tareen group holds the key to 7 Club Road, the official residence of chief minister, at least for now, means the support of its 17 MPAs remains crucial for forming a new government in Punjab. That is a challenge for both sides. Which side they will throw their weight behind is still not clear. It is also unclear if they will stay united as one, or if political compulsions and inducements from the Chaudhries or the opposition PML-N in return for their support, will force them to take their decisions individually. We will get some clarity on where Punjab is headed over the next few days.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2022

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