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EDITORIAL: Ousting a sitting government through a non-trust vote in working democracies is always a lingering itch that afflicts the opposition. Short of election this is the best practical technique to bring about an in-house change, and sometimes the opposition does succeed in that. How viable is such an option depends upon the number of votes that the opposition leadership is able to muster from across the aisles in cahoots with some disgruntled members on the treasury benches that are ready to walk across the aisle and side with the opposition benches. But this is also a gamble; in case the move is defeated on the floor of the house the sitting government wins not only a reprieve for a specified period of time but also gains perfect aplomb. As a matter of practice, the opposition would not move a no-trust motion if the treasury benches are occupied by a solid majority. In fact, it is the marginal strength of the government which tempts the opposition to go for a no-trust vote against it. And here too there is the possibility that the government keeps hanging to power courtesy its majority even by a vote or two. Historically, this has happened in many working parliamentary democracies. Now when the Pakistan People’s Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto has talked of moving a no-trust vote against the Buzdar-led Punjab government, let us look at the situation on the ground to know if such a move has a chance of success. The total number of members of the Punjab Assembly is 371, which means to defeat the sitting government the opposition must muster the support of at least 186 members. The ruling coalition has 199 seats (PTI 184, PML-Q 10, PRHP 1 and Independents 4). The opposition’s number is 172—PML-N 165 and PPP 7. The opposition will, therefore, be required to win over a certain number of votes (14) to add to its existing strength in order to successfully oust the Buzdar government.

Is that number available to the opposition? The PPP chairman, Bilawal Bhutto, answers in the affirmative. One doesn’t think the PML-Q, which has no political option but to remain a junior partner in the PTI-led coalition, is likely to shake hands with him. And given that it got what it wanted, the pro-Jahangir Tareen faction in the PTI too is no more motivated to part company with the government. Be that as it may, we do, however, know that our parliamentary history is replete with incidents of loyalty-changeover. Rightly then the PML-N has shown interest in Bilawal’s idea of dislodging the Buzdar government. “We are ready to support the PPP’s idea of dislodging the PTI government through a no-confidence motion, but it should put forward a workable proposal for this purpose,” says PML-N Secretary General Ahsan Iqbal. The only answer to this so far is that “many of the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf lawmakers would support the move”.

Be that as it may, insofar as Punjab’s political landscape is concerned, there will be numerous unknown unknowns that will surprise us in coming days and weeks.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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