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The Vote of Confidence: An Uphill Challenge For Imran Khan?

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In Prime Minister Imran Khan’s address to the nation on the 4th of March 2021 he annouced his decision to seek a motion of confidence from the National Assembly (NA) of Pakistan on Saturday. Prior to this announcement, the Prime Minister was visited by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa and the Director-General (DG) of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt. General Faiz Hameed to discuss key matters of “national security.” The causal mechanism that has triggered what could be the final phase of Imran Khan as Prime Minister can be traced to the election of Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) candidate Yousaf Raza Gillani against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) nominee Abdul Hafeez Shaikh for a general seat representing Islamabad in the senate. As Senators from Islamabad are elected by the National Assembly, the election outcome also functions as a test of confidence for the government.

Yousaf Raza Gillani was elected by 169 Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) while PTI’s Abdul Hafeez Shaikh received only 164 votes. A total of 340 votes were cast; 7 votes were rejected by the Election Commission of Pakistan which could have gone either way. This shows that the PDM commands the confidence of 169 MNAs while the opposition has a strength of only 160 MNAs – thus an explicit sign of defection from the government benches. As 172/342 votes in the National Assembly are required to topple the government, there is at least legitimate fear that the incumbent government is in a potentially lethal parliamentary crisis. This could well mark the beginning of Imran Khan’s endgame.

The Prime Minister has openly conceded that at least fifteen or sixteen of his own MNAs have sold out their conscience to the opposition for the sake of monetary gratification. Academics and journalists who observe Pakistani politics unanimously share the opinion that billions of rupees have exchanged hands in the recent senate elections given that the stakes are now higher than ever. It is indeed a melancholic reality for all Pakistanis that the senate election has turned into an outrageous auction for the compunction of their lawmakers. This presents a strong call for reforming the dysfunctional format of the senate election.

Imran Khan’s bold decision to seek a vote of confidence despite the knowledge that his MNAs have been bought over by the opposition reflects his endgame plan. The other alternative was to immediately dissolve the National Assembly and call for fresh elections to purge his party from defectors. Imran Khan’s choice to seek a vote of confidence shows his glimmer of hope to salvage himself from this political crisis instead of simply throwing the wet towel over his government. The world will be watching Islamabad very closely on Saturday given the possibility of a major political change.

In the event that Imran Khan loses the vote of confidence in the national assembly, the situation will not be as easy as he thinks it would be i.e. that the Prime Minister will simply resign and sit down on the Leader of the Opposition bench. If the incumbent government is ousted on Saturday, it would mean that Imran Khan’s letter of resignation will be found on the desk of President Arif Alvi on Sunday morning. This could potentially be the first government in Pakistan’s political history to collapse through a motion of confidence; thus it will create a precedent of a new method of regime change. In 1989, an unsuccessful attempt was made by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, COAS General Mirza Aslam Beg, DG ISI Lt.General Shamsur Rahman Kallu and Brigadier Imtiaz Ahmed to topple the government of Benazir Bhutto through a motion of no-confidence. This endeavour was code-named “Operation Midnight Jackal.”

The growing unpopularity of the PTI due to its poor economic performance has created optimism in the PDM of gaining seats in the national assembly in the event of a snap general election. According to article 224 (2) of the constitution of Pakistan, a general election must be held within ninety days following the dissolution of the national assembly. The PDM’s campaign strategy of targeting not Imran Khan but rather his “selectors” coupled with the disenchanting leadership of the Prime Minister has caused the security establishment to withdraw its implicit support for the government and adopt a neutral stance in the upcoming political developments.

 

The writer is an analyst on Pakistan’s domestic politics and foreign policy. He holds a Master’s degree from South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany and can be contacted at [email protected]

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1 Comment

  1. Guest March 6, 2021

    Mr. Mishra, you should use the word “allegedly” in the absence of proof. A consensus is not evidence that the parliamentarians have indeed been “”bought”.

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