Trouble in Punjab

Published December 23, 2022

THE crisis in Punjab shows no signs of abating. With the centre and the province at loggerheads over the future of the Punjab Assembly, it seems that the stand-off over Chaudhry Parvez Elahi’s vote of confidence will ultimately land before the judiciary for arbitration.

Thus, for the umpteenth time this year, decisions regarding our collective future will be taken in places where the public’s voice has no currency. This seems to have become the new normal as both the PDM and the PTI gradually lose sight of the fact that they both exist to represent the public will, not massage the egos of their self-centred leaders.

Their tiresome tussle has kept the country’s largest and most populous province in a state of near-perpetual crisis since April. More than eight months of political wrangling later, there is still no sign of normalcy.

At the start of this week, the PDM launched a two-pronged bid to foil the dissolution of the Punjab Assembly. While its strategy was technically within the lines, it is worth asking why the coalition suddenly changed tack, especially after earlier statements about ‘wholeheartedly’ welcoming dissolution and even daring PTI chairman Imran Khan to announce it as soon as possible.

The federal government had vowed to contest by-elections vigorously if the Punjab Assembly was packed up — what made it decide it should now go to any lengths to prevent it from happening?

Importantly, why did it escalate matters to the point of creating the conditions for a technical knock-out of the chief minister and the possibility of governor rule in the province — a scenario that should never have been considered given the precedent it would set?

The PDM parties never had the numbers in the Punjab Assembly; their time would therefore have been better spent preparing for dissolution and its aftermath, instead of finding new ways to bend the law.

This brings us to the PTI’s role in this present crisis. Since the Punjab Assembly’s fate went up in the air, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly’s dissolution has officially been put on hold. This shows that the party was, as anticipated by some, just using the threat of dissolution as leverage to prod various stakeholders into action.

Mr Khan’s Thursday speech made this clearer: the only thing he demanded was a free and fair early election. However, he once again seemed to be indirectly asking non-political forces to weigh in, which is probably a key reason why the PDM has been so intent on thwarting him.

This silliness has to stop. Mr Khan cannot refuse to take the pitch and expect to be awarded the match too, while the PDM should realise it cannot put off elections forever. Talks between the two must resume with a recognition of political realities and focused on the single agenda of negotiating a mutually acceptable date for elections.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2022

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