The environment of last week’s negotiations between the coalition government and the opposition was regrettably tainted by the two sides’ exchange of heated words. This time, PML-N leaders adopted an aggressive tone, with Defence Minister Khawaja Asif decrying the talks as a “exercise in futility” and Javed Latif asserting that talks with “a terrorist party” were futile.
This made PTI leaders doubt the government’s commitment to taking part in result-driven negotiations. Furthermore, government actions—most notably the police raid on the Lahore home of former Punjab chief minister Pervez Elahi—made the political climate heated and rarely conducive to dialogue.
However, when the government and opposition agreed that both the national and provincial elections should take place on the same day, it appeared that some progress had been achieved in the negotiations. This came about as a consequence of Imran Khan’s PTI negotiating team, led by Shah Mahmood Qureshi, demonstrating some flexibility by accepting impartial caretaker governments to monitor the elections.
They went a step further and offered to assist the administration, which lacks a two-thirds parliamentary majority, in obtaining a one-time constitutional cover to postpone the election date beyond the 90-day window allowed by the constitution.
But because there was no consensus on a date for the elections, the negotiations fell down. Elections would not take place until October, according to government leaders, who insisted on holding them after the whole term of parliament ended in August.
The PTI side suggested that elections be scheduled for some time in mid-July by dissolving the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies in May. The administration rejected this. As a result, the ‘last’ round of negotiations came to an impasse with no sign of continuing.
Given that there are just four months remaining until the end of the government’s term, proposing to hold elections, say, a month or two early, may have helped to develop a national consensus to overcome the political impasse, lower political tensions, and establish a calm road to the polls. But Only its wish to put off voting as long as possible out of concern that the results would not be in its favour may account for its obstinacy on the election date.
It is inconceivable what a difference a few months will make to the political outcomes of coalition parties. In fact, the PML-N has been losing political ground over time, which is working against them.
If a deal cannot be reached, tensions between the administration and opposition will grow, increasing the possibility of future political unrest. Khan had issued a warning that if an agreement could not be reached, his party would return to the Supreme Court and he would order his supporters to stir up trouble in the streets.
The PTI subsequently informed the top court in a letter that “a solution within the Constitution” could not be reached through negotiations with the administration. The earlier order to hold polls in Punjab on May 14 was also directed to be carried out “in letter and spirit” by the court. The SC, for its part, “clarified” that its order was still in effect.
If the ruling coalition continues to postpone elections in order to hold onto power, the nation will stay in a condition of limbo.
The government has a trade strategy to declare and a budget to deliver, according to leaders of the ruling coalition, which is one of the justifications given for not surrendering on the election date. There is no escaping, regardless of whether this was a justification.
For a number of reasons, the rescue agreement with the IMF is still elusive. The Fund’s need that Pakistan cover the whole shortfall in external funding for the remainder of this fiscal year is one of the last issues.
After $2 billion, allegedly, and $1 billion, allegedly, contributed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the shortfall is reported to be over $3 billion. Before finalising the deal, the Fund also wants to assess the government’s budget intentions because there is a clear lack of confidence between the two parties.
Since November, the IMF accord has been postponed. The expense of this delay is still having a significant impact on the economy. Depleting foreign exchange reserves, falling exports, and a near collapse of corporate confidence are signs of this. In actuality, the economy is in a fragile position.
A further delay in the Fund initiative might worsen the already fragile economy’s situation. Given the grave economic circumstances, in order for a new administration to deal with Pakistan’s biggest economic crisis on a long-term basis rather than with short-term fixes.
That the coalition government is devoting more time and effort to political squabbles and power struggles than to guiding the economy’s shipwrecked economy to safer beaches.
The Supreme Court is now the target of its war. Ministers in the ruling coalition have been criticising court rulings, taking advantage of disagreements among its justices, and portraying their conflict with the SC as an attempt to establish the primacy of parliament.
Their abrasive language occasionally gives the impression that they are actively inciting the court to take action against them. This behaviour appears to be an attempt to undermine the court in order to support the government’s disregard for the court’s directive to organise provincial elections in Punjab.
In the meantime, the Election Commission filed a plea for a review of the court’s decision on the Punjab elections, arguing that the SC overstepped its constitutional bounds by setting a date when it was not authorised to do so. The governance structure is in turmoil and on the danger of disintegrating as a result of these conflicts amongst governmental entities.
There may yet be a slight opportunity for negotiations between the administration and opposition to resume. Otherwise, the desire of the ruling coalition to postpone taking action and keep It won’t solve the current political crisis; instead, it will pave the way for a later, even greater one with more severe repercussions for the stability of the nation’s economy and politics.