Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.
The 2022 Punjab By-Elections
After the historic landslide victory of PTI in the Punjab by-elections, Imran Khan and his plethora of supporters are sitting pretty. The triumph is not just historic as it has undermined the long-sustained hegemony of PML-N in Punjab but more so, because despite having control over state machinery and institutes, the PML-N still lost handsomely. The loss was so monumental that Maryam Nawaz and other members broke decades of tradition and conceded their party’s defeat.
Maryam Nawaz also urged the party to focus on its weaknesses so that such a shameful defeat does not transpire again. The next step in Punjab would be voting for the chief minister of the province. After the by-elections, PML-N does not have the required number to keep its chief minister, Hamza, in power.
The PTI and PML-Q alliance has 188 members currently out of 371, which has passed the simple majority of 186. This means that Pervaiz Elahi will likely be the next chief minister of Punjab. As I am writing this, Mr. Khan spoke to Pakistan for the first time after his party’s win in the 2022 Punjab by-elections. He said that despite massive rigging, PTI won due to a high turnout of his supporters.
One small example of the rigging he was deliberating on was the apprehended APO who admitted to adding 600 votes for PML-N. Mr. Khan further stated that he has no confidence in the current election commissioner and stated that he must resign for free and fair elections to take place. Since his controversial removal via the no-confidence motion (to say the least), Imran Khan has remained indefatigable and has mobilized much of the country behind his narrative of an “American conspiracy implemented by national elements”.
PTI’s Wish for General Elections
Imran Khan has been demanding that the PDM steer the nation towards free and fair early elections so that the new government, hopefully with a heavy mandate, can resolve the current political and economic ruptures. Pakistan’s current state, political and economic, is bleak, to say the least. The ongoing Sri Lankan crisis and the revolt against the Rajapaksas is a scary thought that must be festering in the federal government’s head.
The PDM is cognizant that such a revolt can manifest in Pakistan, owing to the Sri Lanka-esque political and economic landscape of the country – if such a dire occurrence does take place, it will culminate in the PDM’s political death. Many Pakistanis’ thoughts are congruent with Imran Khan and PTI’s discourse that the PDM came to power for self-preservation.
A few examples of this include how the PDM clipped the wings of NAB, its controversial postings of FIA officers investigating its cases, as well as rejecting important electoral reforms. Furthermore, PML-N’s Khurram Dastagir earlier and Javed Latif just recently admitted on television that their party and others were told, even threatened, to bring the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan to overthrow him, otherwise Mr. Khan would stay in power to pursue corruption cases against them.
Early General Elections
Within such a political environment, the pressure on PDM is coming to a head, especially after PTI’s landscape victory in the Punjab by-elections. Due to this, Mr. Khan has a few options that he could use to bring about early elections in the country.
Demand the PDM to Dissolve the National Assembly
The simplest option is to simply demand elections without any pomp. Imran Khan has been doing this since his removal, excluding one unsuccessful long march, but this time around, his demand would have more weight due to the momentum from Punjab’s by-elections. Shahbaz Sharif’s hodgepodge government in the federal is standing on a few seats and can implode anytime due to mounting internal pressures (discussed above).
Mr. Sharif is an astute politician who would understand that after losing Punjab that perhaps the time is apt to hedge his bets and dissolve the NA – this way his party can still save some face. In doing so, the PDM could employ the political rhetoric of “we were in power but resigned for the greater good of the nation” and although a dissolution earlier would have been better, it is still not too late.
However, if such a move is deferred further or rejected completely, then saving face will become a mere pipedream for the PDM, as Mr. Khan will undoubtedly employ other drastic measures. This brings us to the other options that PTI can employ.
Another Long March
The PTI’s romance with dharnas, jalsas, and long marches might bloom further in the near future as Imran Khan might pressurize the federal government with a long march if his demands remain unsatiated. The previous PTI long march, on 25 May, that Mr. Khan orchestrated was undermined heavily by PML-N-influenced police and other institutions.
The country witnessed abhorrent activities such as Punjab police entering PTI supporters’ houses without warrants, arresting PTI leaders, using containers to block the roads, and the employment of expired tear gas on supporters (including women, children, and the elderly). This time, however, if a long march is decided upon, things will look much favorably for PTI due to its newfound success in Punjab.
Without any hindrance and victimization, the PTI can amass a sizeable gathering from Punjab and KPK (where it is in power as well) for its long march that would culminate in Islamabad. Furthermore, PTI is historically famous for breaking attendance records in its jalsas and marches. Post-departure from the premiership, Imran Khan has renewed his magnetism as a crowd puller. He has been rallying all over the country with hordes of his followers pledging their support to his party and cause.
It would not be unfathomable to think that if things come to it, especially with the current momentum on its side, PTI could organize one of the largest, if not the largest, long marches in Pakistan’s history. This show of numbers coupled with the high inflation, and record low-forex reserves, might be enough for the PDM government to buckle.
Dissolve the KPK and Punjab Assemblies
The other option that Mr. Khan has up his sleeve is to dissolve the assemblies of KPK and Punjab, where his party is in power. PTI’s current standing in terms of seats in Punjab and KPK is 273 (178 in Punjab and 95 in KPK). Combine this with the vacated PTI seats in the National Assembly and the number of seats, which need to be filled, would become 396. It is pertinent to note that around 20 PTI dissidents did not vacate their seats in the National Assembly.
If PTI also decides to vacate its seats in Sindh and Balochistan (where it is sitting in opposition), this would add another 30 and 7 seats respectively culminating in 433. Since an exodus of this magnitude would mean by-elections across the country, which would cost a lot of money, the judicious thing to do would be to call it quits and opt for a general election instead.
If option 1 does not succeed and push comes to shove, both options 2 and 3 might be employed – perhaps not simultaneously but number one first and then the other. The writing was always on the wall for the PDM but after the win by PTI in the Punjab by-elections, it has become far more legible now. In Pakistan, the new hot topic of discussion is when this government will depart.
Some political commentators and even astrologers are citing October or November as the month of elections for Pakistan. This means that the government will dissolve in July or August. I tend to agree with this assessment or “prediction” due to how untenable it has become for the PDM to sustain its contentious stay in power.
If you want to submit your articles and/or research papers, please check the Submissions page.
The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.