Situationer: Political ‘bombshell’ or bid to engage with new brass?

Published November 27, 2022
PTI chief Imran Khan addresses his supporters from behind a bullet-proof glass window during the party's long march in Rawalpindi on Nov 26. — Reuters
PTI chief Imran Khan addresses his supporters from behind a bullet-proof glass window during the party's long march in Rawalpindi on Nov 26. — Reuters

PAKISTAN Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan’s ‘ambiguous threat’ to quit the assemblies is actually an attempt to “stay politically relevant” and “an invitation for renewed engagement” to the new military leadership, which is all set to take over from next week.

This was the crux of the analysis put forward by a number of legal and political experts who spoke to Dawn following Mr Khan’s ‘surprise’ announcement during the public meeting in Rawalpindi on Saturday night.

Nearly all those Dawn spoke to were unanimous in their view, saying that Mr Khan may not actually follow through on the threat. They speculated that the PTI leader made this announcement because he had no other option left, after telling his followers that he would spring a surprise at the gathering in Rawalpindi — the headquarters of the powerful military that is also known as the garrison city.

Addressing a large gathering, the former PM declared that his party would not remain part of this “current corrupt political system any longer” where people accused of billions in corruption got away without punishment.

However, Mr Khan clarified that he would discuss the matter with the chief ministers and a final decision in this regard would be made after the PTI’s parliamentary party met.

Commenting on the fizzling out of the month-long ‘Haqeeqi Azadi March’, Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (Pildat) President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob was of the view that Mr Khan had no other option but to make such an announcement after creating a massive hype around the long march.

“If [Imran] really wanted to give a surprise, he should have sounded definitive as he had so much time for consultations [with party leaders],” Mr Mehboob said.

He said that the PTI had not categorically stated that they would dissolve the assemblies and that mere resignations would not serve the purpose he wanted.

Mr Mehboob pointed out that if PTI members simply opted to resign from the provincial assemblies of KP and Punjab, they would not be able to force elections. This would, in fact, be a repeat of what happened in the Centre, where a federal government and a parliament were still functioning despite en masse resignations by PTI members.

“This means that the PTI only wants to give this threat to see how seriously those with a say in power corridors choose to engage with him.”

When pressed for more clarity, he said that since there had been a change in the military leadership, it seems Mr Khan now wants to seriously engage with them.

In Mr Mehboob’s words, the message he is trying to send is something to the effect of: “Do not take me lightly. I am a very important person. This is the real message”.

Highlighting a ‘contradiction’, the Pildat chief stated that Mr Khan had declared that the PTI did not want to be a part of the corrupt system. “If that is so, then the president is also a part of the same system. Will he also resign? Will party members in the [PTI-ruled regions of] Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan legislatures will also resign,” he asked.

Signalling GHQ?

A ruling party parliamentarian told Dawn that he believed Mr Khan was basically trying to put pressure on the new military high command “so that they can, in turn, put pressure on the government”.

“The decision is not definitive and final. It is just a signal to the new military leadership that ‘I want to operate within the system, but do ask the government to hold the elections’. His audience was GHQ,” he added.

Another political commentator and journalist, Zahid Hussain, commented that the move could be taken as a surprise, but there was no clear decision from the PTI yet, as Mr Khan had stated that he would first hold consultations.

“But by doing so, he has actually kept the pot boiling as this long march was to culminate in a sit-in to force elections, which did not happen,” he opined.

According to Mr Hussain, the opposition in the assemblies of Punjab and the KP had the option of moving no-confidence resolutions against the provincial chief ministers to stall the PTI’s move to dissolve the two legislatures.

He was of the view that Mr Khan could dissolve the KP assembly, where the party had its own chief minister and the prospects of winning back the province were brighter, but he might not take such a risk in Punjab, where the party could lose hard-earned ground.

When asked why make the announcement if he does not want to go ahead with it, Mr Hussain said it was meant for his followers, since he needed a pretext to abandon the sit-in plan and the keep the movement alive for a future push.

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah told Geo News on Saturday that the PTI would not be able to dissolve the Punjab Assembly as a no-confidence motion was ready to be moved. The minister said that once the requisition had been made, the ruling party would not be able to dissolve the assembly under the Constitution.

Time limit

According to constitutional experts, if Mr Khan is serious about this move, he will have to make a decision within the next couple of months.

He technically has until March to make up his mind, because under the Constitution, if the PTI takes such a decision in April, it will not be able to force elections.

Under Article 224(4) of the Constitution: “When, except by dissolution of the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly, a general seat in any such Assembly has become vacant not later than one hundred and twenty days before the term of that Assembly is due to expire, an election to fill the seat shall be held within sixty days from the occurrence of the vacancy.”

The term of the present legislature is set to expire in August next year.

PTI Senior Vice-President Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn after Mr Khan’s speech on Saturday that the party would reach a final decision on the plan to quit assemblies by next week.

Nothing new

When asked if there had been any prior internal consultations, or was Mr Khan’s announcement a surprise for them as well, Fawad Chaudhry claimed that the option had come under discussion in several party meetings and they had devised many strategies, this being one of them.

Moreover, he recalled that the PML-N had – on several occasions – asked the PTI to first dissolve assemblies in provinces where it was in power, after which they would be ready to hold elections. So, he said, “it is a not a new thing”.

The PTI leader made it clear that the decision applied only to the provincial assemblies of KP and Punjab, while the legislatures of GB and AJK would be unaffected. Similarly, he said, there was no plan to ask President Dr Arif Alvi to resign.

He said that all legislatures combined had 859 general seats, and explained that if the PTI decided to quit the assemblies, then a total of 563 seats would fall vacant for by-elections.

Commenting on the perception that Mr Khan was, in fact, sending a message to the new army leadership, Mr Chaudhry said the PTI expected the new military leadership not to become a party to the political scenario, “unlike the previous military leadership which had taken all the political dispensation in its hands.”

We hope that the new army leadership would let politicians make their own decisions, he said.

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2022

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