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EDITORIAL: When the government postponed the November 11 joint session of Parliament, summoned for the passage of a controversial electoral reform bill, it became obvious that the ruling party’s allies were unwilling to go along. Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, however, claimed that all was well and a joint session would be held next week. Come next week, an apparently displeased Prime Minister Imran Khan held three meetings with his party’s core committee members. Following the third meeting on Friday Chaudhry held a press conference to say “the coalition parties have also expressed confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan.” But the signals emanating from the two main coalition partners, the PML-Q and the MQM, suggested otherwise.

PML-Q leader Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi called an emergency meeting of his party, also on Friday, to discuss “the growing complaints” against the Punjab government, whilst the League’s information secretary Kamil Ali Agha complained that the Prime Minister did not consult his party in important decision-making, adding “if the government does no mend its ways we will have to take the ultimate decision.” Speaking in a similar tone during a TV talk show, MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui averred, “we are not taken into confidence on important legislation and the documents are given to us at the eleventh hour... . If they [the government] do not take their allies on board, we have no option but to make a decision [of parting ways with the ruling PTI].”

These parties may not have liked to be taken for granted, especially as it insisted on including in its contentious electoral reforms bill the use of electronic voting machines and voting right for overseas Pakistanis via the internet. They may also want to secure their future prospects by distancing from the government at a time its popularity has nosedived due to an unprecedented price hike and the general elections are not far away. But there could be more to their sudden outbursts of frustration than meets the eye.

No less significant is a concurrent development on the wider political scene. Since walking out of the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) last April, the PPP regularly pilloried that alliance and its leaders, but is now warming to them, again. Earlier this month, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari attended a dinner hosted by PML-N President Shehbaz Sharif for opposition leaders, where he declared that the opposition is united under the leadership of Shehbaz Sharif and would fully cooperate with his party in Parliament. Later on, he met with PDM chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman.

Both iterated that the opposition stood united in Parliament. It needs to be recalled that the PPP along with the ANP had left the PDM because the Maulana and the Nawaz League wanted all the alliance members to resign from the National Assembly for the Prime Minister’s ouster. So what has changed now to make Parliament so relevant to that objective? Emergence of a crack in the ruling alliance and the PPP’s calculus that public discontent over increasing economic hardships could help it make some electoral gains in provinces other than Sindh which seemed unachievable before.

The plan, considering the opposition parties’ leaders, is to test the waters by moving a no-trust motion against the Senate Chairman. If it works, the next target would be the PM. All this though depends on whether or not his allied parties are just disappointed with him over non- inclusion in the decision-making process or are acting the way they are out due to some extrinsic motivation.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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