Pakistan Reader# 316, 18 March 2022
D. Suba Chandran
Two recent analyses in this column looked at the numbers in the Parliament supporting the government and the opposition, and the implications of filing the no-confidence motion. Both the analyses were critical of the opposition’s claims in having the necessary support to succeed in passing a no-confidence motion against Imran Khan.
The government was confident of the numbers in the Parliament and was poo-pooing the opposition’s efforts to pass the no-confidence against Imran Khan and the government. Some ministers even dared the opposition to take the process forward. Despite all those brave statements and sarcasms to dare, the situation in Islamabad seems to have suddenly changed. Imran Khan stands cornered and is not confident of facing the opposition in the Parliament. Some of his recent statements (about the PTI taking the road and returning to the containers) and attacking the Parliamentarians in their lodge, fearing horse-trading high light the new situation for Imran Khan.
What had happened during the last few weeks, that the situation has completely changed for Imran Khan, and the PTI government? Four reasons could be identified for the above change, that would lead to the unseating of Imran Khan.
Numbers in the Parliament: A brief view
Before looking into the factors that have changed the situation for Imran Khan, a quick look at the numbers in the Parliament. There are 342 members in the Parliament; the opposition would need 172 votes from the Parliamentarians to win the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan. But it has only 162; it includes the following: PML-N (84), PPP (56), MMA (15), BNP-M (4), ANP (1) and independents (2).
Besides what it has (162), the opposition would need ten more votes to reach 172. These ten crucial votes for the opposition will have to come from the ruling coalition. The PTI does not have a simple majority in the Parliament; it has only 156 votes; the rest come from its coalition partners – the MQM-P (7), Baluchistan Awami Party (5), PML-Q (5), and the Grand Democratic Alliance (3).
Four factors, that would seal Imran’s fate in the Parliament
First, the PML-Q. Led by the Chaudhrys, the PML-Q is a part of the PTI lead coalition at the national level, and also in Punjab. The erstwhile King’s party, nurtured by General Musharraf, came out of the PML-N fold. Since the 2002 elections, the PML-Q has remained pro-Establishment and anti-Sharif. During the last few elections, the PML-Q fought against the PML-N in Punjab and also at the national level. During the 2018 elections, the party continued its anti-Sharif position and was able to win substantial seats in the Punjab provincial assembly. Though, it has managed to secure only five at the Parliament, it is crucial for the PTI.
Imran Khan was sure of the PML-Q’s support because of the provincial equation between the Chaudhrys and the Sharifs. It was the case until recently. This support (for Imran and against the Sharifs) seems to have changed recently. Dawn quoted Pervez Chaudhry Elahi saying in a TV interview recently: “He (Zardari) is right. They (the opposition) have the required number … even have more than what one can imagine. This is what we have assessed and seen.” Many within Pakistan consider the above interview as a factor in PML-Q’s changed position towards supporting Imran Khan. During the recent weeks, Shebaz Sharif met with the Chaudhrys after many years; this meeting should have broken the ice, with Asif Ali Zardari following up.
If the PML-Q has decided to support the opposition, it would mean five more votes and would take the PDM tally to 167.
Second, the MQM, which is also a member of the ruling coalition at the national level. As mentioned above, it has seven seats in the National Assembly. The MQM’s relationship with the PTI is not based on any ideological understanding. Both parties are poles apart, in terms of their outlook and votebase in Karachi. However, post-2018 elections, the MQM supported the PTI; many believe the Establishment playing a role in the above equation.
Reports in the public domain in Pakistan during the recent days support an argument that the MQM would be willing to vote against Imran Khan. These reports also hint at a deal between the MQM and the PPP at the provincial level. If this is true, the opposition would have 173 votes, one more than the required 172.
If the PML-Q and MQM have reached a deal with the opposition, this alone would seal the fate of Imran Khan, when the Parliament resumes and see the vote of no-confidence.
However, there are two more factors – the third and fourth, that will also factor in Imran’s fall. The divide within his own party and the support (or the lack of it) from the Establishment. During the recent weeks, the chorus against Imran Khan within the PTI has been growing. With every single day, there are more on the Jahangir Tarin (those who oppose Imran Khan, but within the PTI) camp. The opposition believes this number would become substantial, as the no-confidence comes closer.
The final factor is the Establishment. Despite all the tall claims of being on the same page, it appears the Establishment is not averse to what the opposition is pursuing. Why the Establishment has turned against Imran Khan, or unwilling to support him – is a separate story in itself.
Of the above four factors, the final one – the “neutrality” of the Establishment should be the most crucial. Neither the PML-Q nor the MQM, despite the differences with the PTI would vote against Imran Khan, if the latter still remains the blue-eyed one. Come end March, Imran may have a black-eye.
Alternatively, on 1 April, Pakistan politics is capable of making all the analysts celebrate the day!