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Photo Source: Dawn

Pakistan Reader# 515, 14 January 2023

Punjab: The die is cast



Winning the confidence note by Chaudhry Parvez Elahi and his dissolution recommendation to the Governor means

D. Suba Chandran

Immediately after winning the vote of confidence, on Thursday (13 January 2022), Chief Minister Chaudhry Parvez Elahi sent a summary to the Governor of Punjab to dissolve the provincial assembly. Though the ruling PML-Q and PTI combine could get just the required 186 (of the total 370) votes of the Punjab provincial assembly, it is good enough for Elahi to prove his majority and subsequently ask the Governor to dissolve.

PML-N’s Punjab plan: A disaster from the beginning
In December 2022, the Governor had asked the chief minister to prove a vote of confidence; when Elahi did not yield, the former removed the latter as the chief minister. The objective of the Governor was to prevent Elahi from dissolving the assembly. The second objective also was to break the PTI or the PML-Q, so that Elahi does not have the necessary numbers to prove his confidence. This was the larger PML-N game plan in Punjab in December 2022. It failed in both. Elahi got himself re-instated, thanks to the court intervention; received the necessary 186 votes, thanks to the PTI support. And dissolved the assembly, thanks to Imran’s pressure.

In early 2022, while the PML-N, along with other members of the PDM succeeded in removing the Imran government in Islamabad, it failed to replace the PTI government in Punjab. It tried to divide the PTI from within, separate the PML-Q away from the PTI, and form the provincial government. Though the PML-N succeeded for a short period in 2022 by installing Hamza Shabaz as the chief minister, the government could not last for more than three months. Thanks to the court intervention, Hamza Shabaz had to quit in July 2022, with Chaudhry Elahi getting elected as Punjab’s chief minister. And then came the December disaster for the PML-N. All its calculations have gone wrong so far in Punjab.

Now, what next for the PML-Q, PTI and PML-N?
The PML-Q is a junior partner of the PTI coalition – both at the national and provincial levels. Chaudhry Elahi could force Imran Khan to replace him with Usman Buzdar as the chief minister in early 2022; the PTI did not have another option then. It feared that the PDM would snatch the PML-Q away from the coalition, and take the Punjab province. Imran then had wanted to prevent PML-N from forming the government in Punjab. 

In December 2022 and now in January 2023, the PML-Q would have preferred to continue the assembly and not get dissolved. However, Chaudhry Elahi could not convince Imran Khan. The PML-Q will have to get ready for the elections now. Either on its own but as a coalition partner of the PTI, or merge with the latter. Imran Khan has been hinting at the merger of the two parties and contesting the forthcoming elections under one symbol. The PML-Q may want to have its own space and may not be happy to get merged with the PTI. 

PTI is the clear winner in Punjab for now. Imran may have lost the throne in Islamabad but has defeated all the PML-N plans in Punjab. Now, he would also want to defeat the PML-N in the elections. He will have to address the internal fissures within the PTI, prevent its leaders from crossing over, and ensure that the PML-Q is on his side. He would prefer the PML-Q to merge with the PTI, so that later, it cannot act as a block to blackmail him. 

The PML-N should be worried now. All its strategies during the last nine months in Punjab have proved to be a disaster. All its primary objectives – removing the PTI-led government in Punjab, installing its own government led by Hamza Shabaz as the chief minister, preventing Chaudhry Elahi from gaining the confidence vote and dissolving the provincial assembly – have failed so far. 

The die is cast, more for the PML-N. Having lost the game in the provincial assembly, it now has to shift to the election ground and win the popular mandate. On this, the PML-N still has a chance. Unlike the PTI and PML-Q, the Sharifs have built second and third-rung leadership and party cadres across Punjab. The PML-N is not party of the “electables” and has its presence across the constituencies. The party will have to bring Nawaz and Maryam back to Punjab, before it gets too late.

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