Will Imran face a Benazir-like situation at opposition’s hands?

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 05:04 PM, 22 Jun, 2020
Will Imran face a Benazir-like situation at opposition’s hands?

As the Balochistan National Party of Sardar Akhtar Mengal has parted ways with the ruling PTI because of the latter’s failure to take steps to honour commitments on the basis of which the two parties had become partners, another party from the same province – Jamhoori Watan Party - has decided to give the PTI leadership a week’s ultimatum for the acceptance of their demands. In case the ruling party did not deliver, the JWP, under the leadership of Shazain Bugti, is also set to follow suit and join the opposition camp.

After quitting the coalition, the BNP chief has started working out his future course of action. As a first step, he met with JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, a leader who is probably the staunchest adversary of Prime Minister Imran Khan and is determined to dislodge him by whatever means possible. The two leaders exchanged views on the political situation and the options they could exercise to bring the government under pressure. Moving a no-confidence motion against the prime minister is one of the available options.

The Maulana had been defeated in the 2018 general elections as a result of which he could not reach the parliament after a long time. This unexpected defeat after many consecutive successes since 1988 added to the anger of the JUI-F chief and he went for a long march from Karachi to Islamabad – and then staged a two-week sit-in at the federal capital – to mount pressure on the cricketer-turned-politician to step down. However, because of the “indifference” of the powers that be, the “lone crusader” against the PTI leadership, the Maulana had to go home empty-handed, disappointed and embarrassed.

Other major parties like PML-N and the PPP verbally supported the demands of the JUI-F chief but did not take part in his protest campaign. This was probably the bitterest lesson these parties had taught the Maulana.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s party is an important component of the Balochistan Assembly. In a house of 65, it has 11 seats of the provincial legislature and leader of the opposition (Malik Sikander Khan) comes from this party.

The BNP-M with 10 seats also sits on opposition benches. This commonality is likely to bring the two anti-PTI parties closer.

The prime minister has already set up a committee comprising important ministers to address the grievances of the estranged BNP leadership. Defence Minister Pervaiz Khattak and Planning Minister Asad Umar have already held an inconclusive meeting with Mr Mengal, who is a former chief minister of Balochistan, a post his father also held for some time.

Apparently, there was no headway in the PTI-BNP talks, although the defence minister said they would meet the BNP leadership again, a routine sentence politicians use to cloak failures.

On the other hand, when BNP chief concluded his meeting with JUI-F chief, he told the media that his gap with the opposition is narrowing. While he avoided confirming that he has become part of the opposition, he did say that once his party becomes part of the anti-government bloc it would run the opposition in a more effective way.

Media reports after the Mengal-Fazl meeting say that the BNP chief sees little hope of his party retuning to the PTI’s fold as the rulers regard its demands “unconstitutional”. When the PTI regards these demands unconstitutional, it will take no measures to address them, a situation that will provide the BNP-M a justification to stick to its “goodbye” decision.

Now the question is what will happen if both the BNP-M and the JWP irrevocably decide to part company with the PTI.

Official statistics show that the PTI will still retain a very thin majority in the lower house of parliament. And the setup will stay intact even in future if no other party left the coalition. However, the government may have to face a very embarrassing situation if the opposition parties decided to move a no-trust motion against the premier just to test the waters.

The opposition parties had used this option against Benazir Bhutto in 1989, the first tenure of the PPP chairperson. Although the motion had failed by about a dozen votes, the PPP chairperson had herself said at a ‘post-tragedy’ news conference that the opposition’s initiative had shaken the government.

In Balochistan Assembly, the ruling coalition has a majority. In a 65-seat legislature, the BAP has 24, PTI seven, ANP four seats. BNP-A, Hazara Development Party and JWP are also supporting it.

The parties in the opposition camp are: JUI-F with 11 seats, BNP (Mengal) 10 seats, PkMAK, PML-N one seat each. There is also one independent in the house.

People fed up with the PTI government are keenly monitoring the developments on the political scene.