After a bit of a setback earlier in the Senate race, the federal government seems to have survived the Ides of March. Dirty games have been played on both sides of the aisle, but with a little help from his friends, PM Khan has secured a new political lifeline. It is going to matter in the remainder half of his first term in office. The ball is now in the opposition’s court, to raise the stakes or disappear into irrelevance.
To skeptical observers, the PTI’s comeback victory in the Senate Chairman and Deputy Chairman elections over the weekend puts new life into the political project that started with 2018 elections and Khan’s rise to power. But the fate of that project, if indeed one does exist, and in turn the prospect of relative political stability in the country, depends on three main questions.
First, will the Khan government finally see the light and take steps to up its governing act? If history is any guide, expect the ruling party to go even harder after the leading opposition figures and force them into prison. While this will clearly be in bad taste, it’s the only trick that Khan has learnt to trust. Call it political victimization, but it works for PTI because it keeps the political base energized and the public distracted.
Second, how will the opposition respond to this debacle? Barring a legal breakthrough challenging Friday’s vote, it’s hard to see the latest failure healing the differences within PDM. The PML-N and the JUI-F want to up the ante by going for a long march to force elections. The PPP had previously been urging PDM to work the system and play for time. Will this defeat harden PPP’s attitude?
And third, what does the new political chessboard mean for economic reforms? The reforms have been mostly IMF-driven. The IMF is back, and there are now better chances to pass required legislations as the PTI has improved its legislative strength. The government, however, will still need to come up with a coherent post-pandemic economic growth framework if it is to fight 2023 elections on a better economy.
Such high political drama this March, and it’s only been a fortnight. Had PDM won, a scenario of political co-existence could have materialized until 2023 election. But now that the ghosts from the recent past have denied the opposition their fair share of power in the Senate, the PDM folks may feel emboldened to cross the proverbial Rubicon later this month and camp out in Islamabad. The political war isn’t over yet, but these may be the final battles. Expect things to simmer a while, but not boil over entirely.