Pakistan Reader# 565, 6 March 2023
D. Suba Chandran
Until now the PTI and PML-N was fighting within the provincial assembly. Now the election date means, both have to win the votes of the people. While the former was easier, the latter will be a tough job.
After so much political drama in 2022 in the provincial assembly of Punjab, there seems to be a new opening in 2023. As instructed by the Supreme Court, the Election Commission of Pakistan has finalized 30 April as the election date to elect members of Punjab’s provincial assembly. The assembly was dissolved, yet again post another drama.
In 2022, the provincial assembly witnessed a see-saw between the PTI and PML-N. It saw three chief ministers during the year – Usman Buzdar (PTI), Hamza Shabaz (PML-N), and Parvaiz Elahi (then part of the PML-Q). On 12 January 2023, then Chief Minister – Elahi recommended the dissolution of the provincial assembly, as a part of a larger confrontational politics that the PTI was pursuing to force the PML-N led government to conduct early elections. When the government and the Election Commission were debating the election date, the President of Pakistan unilaterally announced a date. The Supreme Court in a suo motu initiative asked the Election Commission to consult the date with the President but ordered that the election be conducted within 90 days. It also gave a small space to the Election Commission that the latter should stick as much as it could to 90 days deadline. Based on that, the ECP has announced 30 April as the date for the provincial assembly.
Imran Khan wanted an early election at the national level. He attempted to pressurize the PML-N led government through long marches and political protests. When he realized the futility of that strategy, he asked the chief ministers of the two provincial assemblies – Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to recommend the dissolution of the assemblies. Imran could do this in Punjab and KP, because the PTI had the necessary numbers in these two provincial assemblies. The PML-N attempted to block the above move by Imran, by trying to split the PTI in Punjab, and get the PML-Q (which was supporting the PTI) to its side. The PML-N did try and made Hamza Shahbaz as the Chief Minister of Punjab for a short period, but could not succeed. The courts intervened; worse for the PML-N, it failed to secure the necessary seats in the by-elections held during the latter part of 2022.
Though the PML-N could win and remove Imran Khan at the national level in 2022, it could not do so in Punjab. In 2023, the stakes are high both for the PML-N and PTI in Punjab. The election outcome would decide the fate of national elections in 2023, which is what Imran Khan is aiming at, and Shahbaz Sharif is worried about.