An unravelling?

Published June 20, 2023

SOME weeks are still left in the tenure of the 15th National Assembly, but the partners in the ruling coalition already seem to be turning on each other.

A barb here and a barb there, public grievances and private snipes had been reported with increasing frequency in recent days, but some key developments have laid bare sharp differences between two key stakeholders in the incumbent regime.

A major dispute appears to have been triggered over the budget announced by the PML-N’s finance team, which, complains PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, has failed to allocate needed funds for the rehabilitation of the victims of the devastating monsoons and subsequent floods last year.

Most of the destruction had occurred in Sindh, the stronghold of Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s PPP. He warned over the weekend, during a public address in distant Swat, that his party would not endorse the budget unless the ‘promises’ made to flood victims were not kept to its satisfaction.

Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s decision to go public with his grievances did not sit well with the PML-N. He has been advised by PML-N ministers to bring his complaints to cabinet meetings, instead of criticising the government in public.

It is, however, doubtful if Mr Bhutto-Zardari can win much support for his cause, even if he does take it up formally as the government is walking a fiscal tightrope in a final attempt to satisfy the IMF. Meanwhile, pressure is growing on other fronts too.

The second-tier leadership of the two aforementioned parties traded barbs over a recent by-election in Azad Kashmir. Various PML-N leaders either directly or indirectly accused the PPP of ‘stealing’ the election by manipulating results.

Separately, the Jamaat-i-Islami, too, has accused the PPP of manipulating the Karachi mayoral election, and both the MQM and JI appear dead set on opposing the latest census. The eventual unravelling of the marriage of convenience that has kept the ruling coalition together was always anticipated. Imran Khan’s removal as an existential threat has perhaps catalysed the process.

The parties have started to feel that the time may be right to go their separate ways. Their simmering hostilities would suggest that a general election may be around the corner.

The country desperately needs this, but will we see a clear leadership emerging after the polls? It is becoming incredibly difficult to predict what lies ahead.

Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2023

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