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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 490, 28 December 2022

Holding elections



Imran wants it early; others are not keen

D. Suba Chandran

The PTI and Imran want an early election; they don’t want the PML-N and PPP combine to lead the government, and more importantly, they believe early elections get them more votes and seats. On the other hand, the federal government wants the elections to be held as per the schedule, as it believes it would give a better chance to get ready.

Imran Khan wants elections. Both for the national and provincial assemblies. Now. The federal government in Islamabad is not too keen and would like to hold the elections according to the schedule in 2023. The provincial governments have different positions on the same question; Sindh would like to have it along with the national elections as scheduled. The provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is led by Imran’s PTI; the government goes with Imran’s demand. The provincial government in Punjab is led by the PML-Q and has a nuanced position; though the party is a junior partner of the PTI (it has only ten seats in the provincial assembly, vis-à-vis the PTI’s 180 plus), Chaudhry Elahi, given a chance, would like to have it later as scheduled. 

The PML-N, PTI, PPP and PML-Q have different positions on holding early elections. Why?

Imran and PTI cannot accept the fact – that they have been dislodged at the federal level, and also in Punjab (during the initial period). Imran believes that he has been wronged both within the Parliament and outside. He believes that the Establishment has played a role in supporting the then-opposition led by the PML-N and the PPP in toppling his government. He wants to play the victim card, and make political use of it. Longer the wait, the lesser the returns of any victim card. Imran is well aware, that he has to play the victim card, and he has to play to now. Hence the pressure. 

Second, Imran believes, that there is a larger space for his confrontational politics, and would bring him more votes and seats; what happened in Punjab by-elections recently, where the PTI upstaged PML-N should have given the confidence – that the people and time are with him. The sooner he makes use of it, the better his chances are, to return as the PM.

Third, he wants an early election, because he believes, it would bring him better political yield in the Punjab province. Though the Punjab province is ruled by the PTI-led coalition, it is not his party, that has the baton. It is not his man, who is the chief minister. Usman Buzdar, the PTI man in Punjab had to resign to accommodate Chaudhry Pervez Elahi as the chief minister, and the PML-Q as the main ruling party. Though the PTI has 180 plus seats in the Punjab province, the PML-Q is the main ruling party today with only ten seats. An early election, Imran believes, will bring more seats to the PTI in Punjab provincial assembly, thereby reducing his dependence on the PML-Q. Early this year, the Chaurdhrys of Gujarat were willing to accept the opposition parties’ offer then, to switch sides from the PTI, if the chief minister position was offered. Imran had to yield to that pressure and make Elahi the chief minister. It was a tough pill to keep Punjab on his side. Imran believes an early election will bring him enough sweets.

The PML-N and PPP are not keen to have early elections. The PML-N, the main ruling party in Islamabad would want more time to prove its credentials, stabilise the economy, settle the equation with the Establishment, and bring Nawaz Sharif back, before facing the next elections. Currently, the economy is in shambles, and there is public anger, against the government, especially, after the floods. An immediate election would bring fewer returns for the PML-N. 

For the PPP, the larger focus is on Sindh. The party has enough numbers in the provincial assembly and the PTI pressure is less. Why should it yield to the PTI and Imran, if the party has enough numbers? Besides, the party would want time to get politically prepared for the next elections, especially in Karachi. While the PPP may have numbers in Sindh, its Karachi record still needs improvement. 

The PML-Q’s position in Punjab is more nuanced than what is says in public. In public, Chaudhry Elahi has been saying that he would resign when Imran asks him to do so. In private, he would want his party to complete the full term, so he can use the position to strengthen the party’s position in Punjab better. Given the present situation, the PML-Q is less likely to get more seats than it won in the last elections. An immediate election may benefit Imran and the PTI in Punjab, but not the Chaudhrys and their PML-Q.

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