PTI chief Imran Khan has finally grasped the nettle by the hand and announced the dissolution of the Punjab and KP Assemblies. Doing so will mean the playing of his last card to force a dissolution of the National Assembly, and thus the end of his enjoying the political initiative, something he has had after he turned the tables by his rallies to get his May 29 Long March support. He had initially lost it when he was ousted through the no-confidence motion against him.
That momentum had allowed him to propagate his narrative of a foreign conspiracy to topple him, with the assistance of the PDM and the establishment. That narrative included a strong element of calling out the Army leadership, specifically the incumbent COAS, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. He did well in two sets of by-elections, but he failed to achieve two things: fresh elections, and the appointment as COAS of anyone except the person who, as DG ISI, had pointed out corruption in his family circle.
If dissolution does not lead to fresh elections nationally, as well as the dissolution of the Sindh and Balochistan Assemblies,, though no doubt satisfying to him personally, it will have failed. Paradoxically, one excuse for not holding elections, the floods, also means that it makes a kind of sense to have provincial elections in Punjab and KP, which have been less affected by the flooding, before the worse affected provinces. They will presumably need a longer time to recover, and will benefit from the lower need for resources when holding national and provincial elections together. Punjab faces a triple burden rather than a double, because it has not had local government elections, unlike KP.
The elections would be a referendum on Imran. As elections have shown so far, provincial elections have not been about the provincial government. They have either been about the constituency, or about national politics. Though provincial governments are at the cutting-edge of service delivery, with health, education, and policing all exclusively provincial subjects, the PTI is going to base its appeal on Imran ’Khan’s appeal, not the performance of the Buzdar or Mehmood governments, If anything, Ch Pervez Elahi will campaign on his record from his tenure as CM from 2003 to 2008, because his current tenure has not been long enough to campaign on. The PML(N) would also like to campaign on Imran, and much of its narrative-building will be about the Toshakhana gifts, for the corruption issue is likely to be central, with Imran once again promising to combat corruption, but with the PML(N) now having examples of its own to show that Imran was also corrupt, and that too in a mean way. The accusations against the Sharifs by the PTI were of kickbacks, of failures to provide the money trail. The accusations against Imran are sleazy and specific.
Imran does not just have to avoid these charges. He has also got to answer why the PTI government was unable to get any convictions against the corrupt, and why those arrested by NAB got bail, often after long periods in jail, got bail. Imran has already sketched out his counter: he could not obtain convictions because the corrupt were protected by General Bajwa, who controlled NAB. The emphasis on NAB is interesting, because the statements by Ms Tayyaba Gul indicate that the PM used her videos of harassment to blackmail the Chairman NAB. Why he would do such a thing when he didn’t control NAB will doubtless be raised in the election campaign.
Ch Pervez appears the more reluctant of the two CMs to dissolve, and his defence of General Bajwa is not merely an expression of solidarity with the former COAS, something Ch Parvez is big on, but also a declaration of loyalty to the establishment. If Ch Pervez dissolves, he wants it assumed that the establishment wants the Assembly dissolved. Mr Khan wants to use General Bajwa as a major campaign tool, and may well try to hang all his failures onto him. How Ch Parvez will manage if that is the campaign strategy is not known.
The opposition on Tuesday moved both a vote of no-confidence against the CM, and had the Governor ask him to take a vote of confidence. Either is sufficient to stop a CM advising dissolution. At the same time, there was no movement in KP, where it seems the opposition does not have the numbers. In Punjab, it seems, the numbers are complete, and the move was not merely to stop the dissolution, but to remove Ch Pervez.
His argument, said to have been made to Mr Khan, that dissolving will mean depriving Mr Khan of the protection from arrest he currently enjoys in Punjab and KP, especially when it is kept in mind that the caretaker administrations, probably chosen by the Election Commission of Pakistan, will not be particularly favourable to Imran. It should be remembered that Imran is involved in legal wrangles with the Chief Election Commissioner, who has already decided against Imran in the foreign funding case as well as the Toshakhana reference. The CEC will display the height of professionalism by selecting a neutral caretaker, and will be sorely tempted to choose someone anti-PTI (especially since any choice is going to be thus disparaged).
The CEC is likely to make the final selection of caretaker CMs, because the choice is supposed to be after joint consultation by the CM and the Leader of Opposition. At the moment, these two are not on talking terms in either province. The Constitution has decreed that if there is no consensus, the ECP will decide. Mr Khan may well find himself trapped by his own rhetoric, and unable to accept the caretaker administrations put in place.
Mr Khan will also find himself facing a similar problem if he gets the dissolution of the National Assembly he wants. There the consultation between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Leader of the Opposition Raja Riaz Ahmad will be amicable, obviating the need for the CEC to make a decision. The only way Imran can stop that is by bringing his party back to the National Assembly, assuming the office of Leader of the Opposition, and taking part in a consultation. His refusal to talk to ‘thieves and dacoits’ would prevent him from participating in the necessary consultation, with the result that the ECP will have to decide.
The opposition on Tuesday moved both a vote of no-confidence against the CM, and had the Governor ask him to take a vote of confidence. Either is sufficient to stop a CM advising a dissolution. At the same time, there was no movement in KP, where it seems the opposition does not have the numbers there. In Punjab, it seems, the numbers are complete, and the move was not merely to stop the dissolution, but to remove Ch Pervez.
The main motive for this is to allow PML(N) supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif a safe passage back home. He has no intention of landing to face a Punjab Police contingent eager to haul him off into durance vile. His case is a little different from either Ishaq Dar or Salman Shehbaz, who were both accused on bail from courts, to which they had to surrender. Mian Nawaz is a convict on bail from jail, and will have to surrender to the Punjab Prisons Department. Only then can he obtain bail from the court as his daughter Maryam did.
One option that has been considered is declaring his house a sub-jail, where he can be kept. That option requires an executive order, which would not be possible with Ch Pervez in office. It is doubtful if a caretaker CM would allow something so blatantly partisan. To avoid this, Ch Pervez has to go. Incidentally, the option of retaining Ch Pervez with the PML(N) providing his 10 members support from outside, has clearly been abandoned.
Dissolution also means that Mian Nawaz has to come back, no matter if it means going to jail. Even if he campaigns, victory is not assured. Indeed, going by the latest by-election results, maybe all he can do is ensure that the loss is not a rout.