The decision to stay

Published July 21, 2022

THE next few months will reveal whether or not the decision taken by the PML-N to continue governing until the present assemblies complete their term is a wise one.

The PML-N-led coalition government feels that while it has successfully concluded the restoration of the suspended bailout package with the IMF after months of tough negotiations, it has had to pay a heavy political price for making some tough economic decisions, thus losing its majority in the Punjab Assembly. But there’s also a strong feeling within the coalition that the economy will start to improve as a result of its stabilisation decisions, however harsh, and expected dollar flows from multilateral lenders and friendly Gulf nations.

The ongoing currency and stock market turmoil is being interpreted by Finance Minister Miftah Ismail as a temporary phenomenon caused by political uncertainty after the by-election outcome. To the coalition, therefore, it makes little sense to throw in the towel and concede to the demand of Imran Khan’s PTI to quit and hold early elections.

Read: The case for fresh elections

Rather, the PML-N and its allies want to try and save the Hamza Shehbaz government in Punjab where the PTI and its ally, the PML-Q, now command a majority in the assembly and appear all set to get Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi elected as the new chief minister in the run-off election on Friday.

The PTI, on the other hand, is likely to mount further pressure on the coalition government at the centre for early polls in the country and push its agenda more vigorously than ever before once it recaptures Punjab. Some PML-N leaders have already promised the PTI snap polls should Imran Khan agree to dissolve the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies. Whether or not he takes the bait to build up greater pressure on Islamabad is the question.

Nonetheless, it is quite clear that the PTI isn’t going to relent on its demand for fresh polls, and will keep the ruling coalition busy on the political front throughout the remainder of its tenure.

Editorial: Economic uncertainty

This brings us to the real issue: does the PML-N and its allies have what it takes to focus on the flagging economy and make life easier for the common people in the face of mounting pressure from Imran Khan — especially if the PTI-PML-Q combine succeeds in snatching Punjab away from the party?

Politically, things are going to become more difficult for the PML-N in the days to come, particularly if it loses its stronghold to its rival, eventually distracting its focus away from the economy. Thus, it is time for the PML-N and its allies to weigh the political costs of sticking to power just for the sake of it.

The wiser option may be to seek a fresh, clear public mandate, instead of completing the term. The sooner it makes the decision the better for its future electoral prospects.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2022

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