WE have been in a perpetual state of crisis but what is happening now has pushed the country towards anarchy. It’s a free for all with state institutions at loggerheads. The so-called democratic process is all but dead, worsening our state of uncertainty. What happens next is anyone’s guess.
Monday’s unilateral announcement by the president of the election dates for the Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa assemblies has given a new twist to the ongoing power game. The validity of President Arif Alvi’s declaration has been challenged by the Election Commission of Pakistan that is responsible for holding polls and has pitted the two against one another.
The ECP had earlier turned down the president’s invitation for consultation on election dates on the grounds that the matter was sub judice.
Meanwhile, unsure about its fate, a beleaguered dispensation remains defiant and has given no indication that it will comply with the Feb 10 order of the Lahore High Court to hold elections to the two provincial assemblies within the time frame stipulated in the Constitution, thus giving rise to another round in the legal battle.
Both the election body and the government are dragging their feet over elections to the provincial assemblies. The situation gives the impression that it is all part of a greater political game to block the democratic process of change that is conducted through elections.
There is no precedent in our recent political history of such blatant violation of the constitutional mandate of holding elections within 90 days of the dissolution of an assembly. It has been more than one month since the governments in Punjab and KP were dissolved, but there is no indication yet of the ECP and the government fulfilling their constitutional obligations.
There seems to be a complete breakdown of state institutions.
It is quite astonishing that a government that never stops flaunting its democratic credentials should now be running away from the electoral process. It is not only about elections to the provincial assemblies being held as per the provisions of the Constitution, it is also about the ruling coalition seeking a fresh mandate from the public to govern.
Hiding behind excuses like the deteriorating financial situation and rising terrorist threat in the country will further erode the government’s legitimacy and electoral prospects. A truncated National Assembly cannot claim to represent the entire electorate. The Lahore High Court’s ruling suspending the de-notification of several PTI legislators has further dented the position of the governing coalition.
While the PTI had resigned en masse from the National Assembly following the ouster of its government last year the current speaker of the house has suddenly accepted their resignations after sitting on the decision for several months. The resignations were accepted after the PTI decided to withdraw them and go back to the assembly.
Notwithstanding the PTI’s initial irrational decision to quit the assembly, the speaker’s hurried action exposes the government’s sense of insecurity. The speaker is still not willing to allow the PTI legislators to return to their seats, despite the suspension of their de-notification by the ECP. The entire saga makes a mockery of the democratic process. It is very apparent that not one of the political parties believes in working within constitutional parameters.
A fractured coalition beset by internal conflicts has completely failed to deal with the myriad challenges faced by the country. Its disastrous policies have brought the country close to an economic meltdown. We already seem to be hurtling towards a Sri Lanka-like situation. Despite the government’s belated move to start implementing IMF loan conditionalities, there is no indication yet of the revival of the Fund’s bailout package.
While the whopping new taxes imposed by the government have affected the common people, they have spared the wealthy. The business community and traders continue to enjoy exemptions. More worrisome is the spiraling inflation that is burdening the poorer section of the population most. The average 33 per cent inflation forecast for the first half of this year is likely to affect the majority of Pakistani households that are already facing severe hardship.
What is most alarming is that even making the painful adjustments may not be enough to get the IMF’s approval. A weak government with limited political power will find it hard to control an extremely volatile situation. With elections due by October 2023, and former prime minister Imran Khan increasing the pressure, the government has been put in a precarious place.
As the government’s mandate shrinks, it seems to be surviving on a prop. The footprints of the security establishment are evident, despite the latter’s claims of staying away from politics. The filing of sedition cases against opponents are old tactics to intimidate the opposition.
The PDM government seems to have not learnt any lesson from the past and is resorting to the same old methods of suppressing the opposition. The resignation of the NAB chairman because he was apparently asked to do “certain things” that were unacceptable to him gives credence to allegations that the government is trying to use the anti-corruption watchdog to intimidate its opponents.
Whatever is happening under the so-called caretaker government in Punjab, as well as the resistance to elections to the provincial assembly, reinforces suspicions about a new game plan being prepared for the installation of a longer-term interim set-up. This kind of military-backed arrangement has not worked in the past and there is no possibility of it delivering now. Any such attempt will further destabilise the country, with serious consequences for its unity.
The unfolding political power game has sharpened the clash of institutions, resulting in a systemic collapse. There seems to be a complete breakdown of the state, with no sign of the political stand-off ending. The fear of civil strife looms large as tension mounts in the country’s largest and most powerful province Punjab.
The recent crises have shaken the entire edifice. The political stand-off has brought the country closer to anarchy. Political confrontation and polarisation have weakened the state institutions and created more space for extra-constitutional powers to act.
It is one of the most serious crises that the country has encountered in its turbulent political history. There is need for political reconciliation. Instead of trying to use extralegal means to perpetuate its rule, the PDM government should try to defuse the deepening political polarization. Running away from the elections is not a solution to the problems that the country is facing.