Pakistan Reader# 296, 15 February 2022
D. Suba Chandran
Since January 2022, there has been a fizz amongst the opposition. The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), comprising the major opposition parties, has suddenly found new energy since January this year, after the lull in 2021. The opposition believes they have enough political strength to pass a no-confidence motion against the PTI government in Parliament.
Will the PDM succeed in passing a no-confidence motion against Imran Khan? Even if they succeed in the effort, what next? Will they form a government until the next elections (scheduled to be held in 2023), or will they be ready to dissolve the Parliament and face the elections immediately?
Five reasons why the PDM is confident in 2022
First, the PPP is now back into the PDM fold. In 2021, the PPP walked out of the PDM due to differences in strategy; while the PPP was willing to hit the road, it was against the idea of resigning from the assemblies. The PPP rather wanted to have an “in-house” change in the Parliament – replacing the PTI and Imran Khan.
Second, the PML-N seems to have addressed its internal leadership struggle. There was a divide between Shehbaz Sharif and Maryam Nawaz, the brother and daughter of Nawaz Sharif. Maryam Nawaz wanted to go along with Fazlur, whereas Shehbaz was cautious. Shehbaz also wanted to see where the Establishment stands, thereby differing from Maryam and even his brother; the father and daughter were even willing to take on the Establishment. Shehbaz is pragmatic and does not want to go on a warpath – against Imran and the Establishment.
Third, Fazlur’s original idea of “leaving the assemblies” and “hitting the road” is now replaced with a moderate “in-house change.” The PPP has been in favour of this idea from the beginning, and it was Fazlur who insisted on the “long marches” forcing the government to resign by confrontational politics on the road. This is acceptable to everyone now and acts as a common minimum acceptable for everyone across the PDM.
Fourth, the PTI has become weaker; the recent local elections in KP province in 2021 witnessed the JUI taking the lead and PTI losing ground. According to early statements, the JUI seem to have taken the lead even in the ongoing local elections in February 2022 in KP. The perception is that PTI is losing ground in its fort, leading to murmurs even within the party. The PDM feels perhaps the time is ripe now.
Fifth, the expectation that the Establishment would become neutral if the opposition parties have to strike hard within and outside the Parliament.
As a result, the PDM is confident today. But do they have enough firepower to dislodge Imran Khan and the PTI in the Parliament? The following three questions would provide an answer to the above.
1. Do the PDM have enough numbers in the Parliament?
As of February 2022, the numbers do not favour the PDM. In a 342 member Parliament, the ruling coalition led by the PTI has 177 members. The PTI has 156 members, followed by MQM-P (7), Baluchistan Awami Party (5), PML-Q (5), and Grand Democratic Alliance (3).
The PDM would need 172 votes in its favour to pass a no-confidence against the government. However, it has only 162 members belonging to various opposition parties – PML-N (84), PPP (56), MMA (15), BNP-M (4), ANP (1) and Independents (2). The PDM would need ten more votes if it has to secure a no-confidence motion against Imran Khan.
Even if all the opposition members vote in favour of the motion against Imran Khan, the PDM will still not be able to succeed.
2. Will the PDM succeed in politicking and win some of the PTI supporters?
If the PDM does not have enough numbers to pass a no-confidence, then it has to look for securing the same from the ruling coalition. While the PTI is the single largest political party in the Parliament with 156 seats, it runs because of the support from its partners – mainly the MQM-P and GDA from Sindh with seven and three seats respectively, BAP from Balochistan with five seats, and the PML-Q from Punjab with five seats.
Unless the PDM poach into the above PTI allies, it will not succeed in passing a no-confidence against Imran Khan. The MQM-P and GDA are against the PPP in Sindh, while the PML-Q led by the Chaudhry brothers, were against the Sharifs in Punjab. The Chaudhry brothers were a part of the PML-N, but came out of it to form the PML-Q in 2002, and sided with Gen Musharraf then.
The latest meeting between the Chaudhrys and Shehbaz Sharif is important in this context. Shehbaz was received by both Parvez Elahi and Shujaat Hussain. Nawaz Sharif seems to be agreeable to the idea of meeting with the Chaudhry brothers. He was against the idea of meeting them; it was the split that considerably damaged the PML-N then in the 2000s, and also now during the 2018 elections. Else, the PML-N would have won enough seats in Punjab to win the provincial assembly and even the Parliament.
It is not easy for the PDM to get the extra number from the PTI allies. Unless the PDM succeeds in breaking the PTI. This is a big if.
3. Will the Establishment remain neutral?
The Establishment has enough inroads into the decision making of the BAP, MQM-P and PML-Q. Together, these three parties would have 17 votes, which would be more than enough for the PDM to win the no-confidence.
Is the Establishment ready to support the PDM’s initiative and pull down Imran Khan? Less likely. Hence, the PDM is also less likely to succeed. However, it would generate enough heat to get ready for the next elections.