THE contentious Supreme Court decision striking down Deputy Speaker Dost Mohammad Mazari’s controversial ruling that disregarded the votes of 10 PML-Q lawmakers in the run-off election for Punjab chief minister has raised serious questions about the fate of the coalition government in Islamabad and the PML-N’s future in the province.

In its widely anticipated judgement on a petition filed by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, the three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Umar Bandial ordered the immediate notification of the success of the petitioner in the election for chief minister, paving the way for a change in the country’s most populous province and political heartland.

Earlier, the court had dismissed a request from the lawyers representing Mr Mazari, the now ousted chief minister Hamza Shehbaz, PML-Q president Chaudhry Shujaat Husain — whose letter instructing party legislators to not vote was cited by Mr Mazari as the reason for disregarding their votes — and others, including the Supreme Court Bar Association, to form a full court for hearing the case.

The decision is more likely to compound the existing politico-legal crisis than tackle it even if it leads to early elections as demanded by the PTI and its leader Imran Khan. Nonetheless, it is clear that the change in the political scene after the top court’s decision will prove to be the most massive setback for the PML-N in its history; the party will now be facing the music it orchestrated for others in the past when it would use its power base in Punjab to ambush the governments of its political rivals at the centre.

Read more: PML-N to switch gears back to ‘attack’ mode?

A resurgent Imran Khan and his PTI have not just snatched the PML-N’s citadel in Lahore, they are also threatening to shake the very foundations of its weak power in Islamabad. It is only a matter of time before the coalition faces increased pressure from all corners, especially the PTI, for early elections, which will be difficult for it to handle with a hostile administration in the largest province.

Will the PML-N be able to fight and take back its political stronghold from the PTI if early elections are held? That is the question. So far, the party has lagged behind its resurgent rival and appears to have no strategy to counter its moves, political or legal. With Imran Khan emerging as the most popular leader it will be hard for the establishment, judiciary, bureaucracy or business elite to write him off.

That’s what the verdict underlines. Confined to Islamabad with its coalition partners, the PML-N leadership has limited options to survive the remaining term of the present assemblies and no room for manoeuvre in Punjab. The only choice for it from here on is to forge a stronger alliance with the other parties — most of them already a part of the coalition — in the next elections and beyond to salvage its politics.

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2022

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