WILL the idea of a participatory coalition government — apparently an improved version of the Pakistan Democratic Movement setup — deliver political and economic stability? It would depend on how this somewhat different approach works and corresponds to the changing ground realities.

To begin with, the next prime minister would be from the largest party. Shahbaz Sharif would be the joint candidate of the six-party coalition with the blessings of PML-N supreme leader Nawaz Sharif. PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari says his party has decided to form a committee to engage with other political parties on an ‘issue-to-issue basis’ such as the budget and legislation, but would not join the government.

The next joint presidential nominated candidate would engage himself in firefighting. And apparently, five smaller parties from different provinces will have more Cabinet seats.

We will take Pakistan out of difficult times, says PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, known for his ability to manage political reconciliation, an approach also shared by Shahbaz Sharif.

Reconciliation will improve the chances of the incoming government to complete its mandated five-year electoral term.

To quote Pakistan Institute of Legis­lative Development and Transparency President Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, a party demonstrating greater adjustment has a better chance to succeed. Reconciliation will improve the chances of the incoming government to complete its mandated five-year electoral term.

The six-parties coalition will get a comfortable majority of seats in the National Assembly, but it is not clear yet whether it will secure a two-thirds majority. Though PTI, the main opposition party, would not join the Shahbaz-led coalition, it will form the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

PML-N and four smaller parties, Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid, Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party and Balochistan Awami Party, will join the coalition government. With mutual co-operation, says MQM-P leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui ‘we will strengthen democracy’.

The PML-N had come up with the idea of a participatory coalition government aimed at what it said was in the country’s larger interest. It became imperative because of a split electorate mandate, as no political party could secure a majority or emerge as a truly federal party.

Diverse polity and pluralism of the country, says Chief of the Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir, would be well-represented by a unified government of all democratic forces imbibed with national purpose. He added the nation needed stable hands and a healing touch to move on from the politics of anarchy and polarisation, which did not suit a progressive country of 250 million people. The healing touch requires that PTI leaders and workers in jail should be released, says PTI stalwarts.

In February polls, the three major parties secured 37.8m votes together, which constituted a minority of registered voters. According to Fafen’s findings, the PML-N increased its share of votes from 12.9m in 2018 to 13.3m in 2024, and PPP Parliamentarians’ share rose from 6.9m to 7.6m. The PTI-backed candidates secured 16.85m votes compared to its previous tally of 16.9m votes (despite the lack of an even playing field).

However, according to analysts, the 2024 polls have demonstrated that public faith in Pakistan’s democratic political system endures and also that, if threatened, the people will jealously protect their right to self-govern. The people have delivered Pakistan its greatest electoral upset since 1970.

Foreign newspaper reports noted that the people of Pakistan have spoken in no uncertain terms that only they have the right to decide who to vote for. Even those who do not have any sympathy left for the PTI or its leaders are against the highhandedness on display lately. People do not want to engage in manufactured elections anymore.

The business community sees the political uncertainties created after the polls and the power struggle between political parties as very harmful to the country. Business leaders emphasise that the economy needs a sustainable, long-term and broad-based national government. And that all major political parties and winning independent candidates must work together for the country’s political and economic stability.

Without stability, it would be impossible to renew business confidence and stop the current reported surge in flight of capital and brain drain. It is feared that a coalition government, with partners with diverse interests and views and lacking a cohesive approach, would produce a weak setup incapable of resolving multiple problems. Then analysts also wonder whether ‘tainted’ elections will lead to political stability. But the polls have served as a catalyst for change.

As opposed to a split electoral mandate at the federal level, PPP, PTI, and PML-N have emerged as the majority parties in Sindh, KP and Punjab, respectively. The relative political stability in the three sub-federations can be explained by the fiscal, legislative and political autonomy the 18th Amendment and 7th National Finance Commission award grants them.

Denied the required autonomy and participatory democracy, the local governments remain dysfunctional. And the denial of the sovereign right of the nation’s people to rule through their representatives has delivered a weak federation.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, February 19th, 2024

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