The trust deficit

The country faces turmoil and confusion

AT PENPOINT

The immediate question that comes to mind is why Prime Minister Imran Khan holding rallies all over the country when his test is going to be in the National Assembly, where he faces a vote of no-confidence.

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Is he mentally prepared for the possibility, not certainty, of defeat and an early recourse to the hustings, so that all of this rallying is really the beginning of an election campaign? Or is he trying to gear up his support base to pressure their MNAs to stick with him?

Or is he appealing to the powers the opposition accuses of installing him in the first place? After all, the rallies the opposition held in the run-up to the no-confidence vote were meant to impress everyone, including those powers that Imran had to be removed.

Therefore, Imran’s rallies would show those same powers that Imran deserved to remain in office. It would be a reminder to them that even if ousted, he would retain a powerful political presence, and was not to be disposed of so easily.

That position might well show the problem with the hybrid model of government, which the opposition says is a form of military rule without imposing martial law, when the constitutional relationship between the PM and COAS is reversed, but the letter of the Constitution is observed, if not the spirit.

The nation is being treated to the sight of the opposition hoping either to win over the allies or induce a split in the PTI, as electables are made to move away from the government, probably at the gesture of those who had made them join the PTI in the first place.

The smaller parties have to support a no-confidence move, for it is too much to ask of them to go into the opposition along with the PTI. All of them have some positions to guard in the present system, as they are electables, whose presence in Parliament, and whose loyalties, are determined by certain quarters.

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Imran’s best chance of retaining power would be to retain the support of the forces that had brought him to office. Also, even if there had been some disillusionment with Imran, there has been none of the belief in the ability of the opposition to provide an alternative.

The PTI wants to delay as much as possible, even though it is the economy that has got it into trouble. Perhaps that has been the PTI’s problem: it has looked at the economy in terms of votes. What the citizen, as well as the establishment, now needs is a government that sees economic management as an end in itself.

Imran will represent a third political force to have been tried. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s links with the Yahya regime and the preceding Ayub regime exist, but they have been swept aside by his and his party’s titanic struggle with the Zia regime. The Zia regime gave the country Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N. Like Bhutto and Nawaz, Imran is imperfect. In other words, he is a human.

 

His electioneering will depend, it seems from his rallies, on the themes of his previous campaign: that the older parties are corrupt, and he is a crusader against them. It will be up to the opposition to point out that the economy has tanked. As a matter of fact, the state of the economy is what has counted against him. The establishment had assumed that corruption was preventing the country from growing, and being able to afford it. That an honest government has not been able to restore the situation shows that there might be other factors making for the problem.

An idea Imran might find difficult to revive would be that of tabdeeli, the slogan he used Most damaging to this has been the allegations of corruption against members of his own team, and the way theft have been left unpunished, even if thrown out of his administration.

He is being accused of promoting disorder, by his call for party workers to come to D-Chowk to prevent PTI MNAs going to Parliament. The opposition has responded with a threat to bring in its own workers. The whole unholy mixture seems tailor-made for the eruption of violence which might cause a military takeover. This is apart from the apparent imitation of Donald Trump, whose supporters attacked the Capitol while the Senate was certifying the presidential vote, on 6 January 2021. Just as the people were mobilized then to stop a constitutional process, the people are being mobilized to stop the constitutional process of the no-confidence vote.

It is not easily forgotten that the first military takeover, in 1958, had one episode of horrific violence in its background, the injury of the Deputy Speaker of the East Pakistan Assembly while chairing a session to take up a no-confidence motion against the Speaker.

The Speaker is considered key, because one of the scenarios has him declaring invalid votes cast in defiance of the party whip. Whether because of that, or for some other reason, the Speaker might prevent the vote of no-confidence from coming to fruition by adjourning the session because of disorder. That could lead to a sort of situation where he could find himself facing the same sort of ire that led to the death of the East Pakistani presiding officer.

Whether or not Imran has lost his majority, it does seem he has lost that much more intangible quality, the command of the House that every Leader of the House has. It is an almost mystical factor, which allows him also to head the Cabinet. That both Speaker and Deputy Speaker at the recent party core committee meeting was evidence of this, quite apart from the doubts it created about their neutrality.

The core committee came up with the idea of having a large assembly through which MNAs would have to vote in the no-confidence move. The PTI MNAs may be subject to control, but the allies are not so subject. It perhaps makes sense for Imran to ask for mergers with the PTI, so that he gains the power of disqualifying them.

If indeed the Speaker refuses to count votes against the whip, the matter would end up before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has previously not intervened in parliamentary proceedings, not so much from seemliness as because of express constitutional provisions, but the Speaker was to act against the Constitution, there might be problems. The Supreme Court may find that it is unable to stay out.

All of that is just a matter of detail. The real question is where does the establishment stand?

The DG ISPR says it is neutral, but then, that is what it has always said. If it is manifestly neutral, considering that it was not neutral before, it would be sending a strong signal to the allies that Imran was no longer in favour. It is perhaps a reflection of the past that even being neutral gives off political signals. It might be all very well to say that maintaining neutrality will take time, but what about the politicians who want a helping hand for victory rather than neutrality which leads to defeat? A vicious cycle seems to have set in, and it seems all eyes will be on the establishment even as Imran’s opponents purport that this is what the whole exercise is all about.

The vote seems to have been put to March 28, which would mean that March has been lost as far as a working government goes. Perhaps this will be the worst that can be said about the no-confidence motion: the more time before it is decided, the worse it is for the economy. The PTI wants to delay as much as possible, even though it is the economy that has got it into trouble.

Perhaps that has been the PTI’s problem: it has looked at the economy in terms of votes. What the citizen, as well as the establishment, now needs is a government that sees economic management as an end in itself.

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