WHAT happened during the briefest possible and disorderly session of the Punjab Assembly called to elect a new leader of the House on Sunday paled in comparison to what had taken place in Islamabad a little earlier. Still, it has left a deep scar on the country’s fragile democracy. The intention of the government to call off the election in case the ruling PTI and its ally PML-Q couldn’t muster the required support for their nominee had become obvious when the assembly bureaucracy locked the Press Gallery and evicted the journalists in an unprecedented move. The night before, the federal government had dismissed governor Chaudhry Sarwar to punish him for resisting the alleged “illegal and unconstitutional orders” of the prime minister and his cabinet members to help Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi get elected to the top office in Punjab. The postponement of the election clearly implies that the ruling PTI-PML-Q combine in Punjab has lost its majority in the House following the wholesale defection of its lawmakers to the other side. The desperation of the two allies also suggests that they may decide to again defer voting on Wednesday, should they not succeed in winning back the support of their disgruntled legislators by then or if they lose in the final headcount.
Political control of Punjab, the country’s most populous province, is crucial for both sides for winning the upcoming national elections. The PTI-PML-Q alliance, it seems, is preparing to go to any lengths — from dissolving the assembly à la the National Assembly to imposing governor’s rule in the province — to prevent Punjab’s sliding into the lap of the opposition political parties. The blockade of a Lahore hotel — where the dissenting PTI lawmakers are being kept by the opposition ahead of the chief minister’s election — by PTI workers, in response to a televised call by their party chief, is a clear sign of the shape of things to come in the province. With the country already plunged into a constitutional crisis, any adverse action to undermine the democratic process of election of the new chief minister of Punjab will only push the nation deeper into political chaos and further widen divisions in society. It is clear that the country is facing huge internal and external challenges, and that it is time to heal old wounds and keep away from inflicting new ones. Unfortunately, our politicians do not seem to care.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2022