Come back to the House: Court verdict is golden opportunity for Khan’s party
Pakistan’s 13-party ruling coalition and the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf have been engaged in confrontational politics for months and the two sides, for one reason or the other, are not willing to hold talks. As a consequence, the political and economic crises of the country are getting more serious with the passage of time.
But a judgment of the Lahore High Court (LHC) issued on Friday provides the two sides with an opportunity to steer the country out of a multitude of problems.
The LHC has set aside the de-notification of 72 PTI members of the National Assembly by the Election Commission of Pakistan and the legislature’s speaker, clearing the way for their return to the House they had quit about a year ago. All of them belong to Punjab, the most populous province of Pakistan.
PTI Chairman and former Prime Minister Imran Khan is also among those who can rejoin the house and perform their constitutional duties. However, while the PTI has expressed its willingness to return to the assembly, Khan has his reservations.
Perhaps it’s too much to hope for but if PTI legislators rejoin the house, the political situation could witness a marked change and the parties could deal democratically with problems that have remained unaddressed due to the prolonged deadlock. Also, the tensions that have gripped the country for too long now, could start dissipating.
With the return of the PTI legislators to the House, the party will have the right to have its own leader of the opposition, who will be part of the country’s important future decisions. The significance of this position and national interest demand that Imran should also review his thinking and in the larger national interest, return to parliament.
Likewise, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif should also bury the hatchet and stop efforts to throw Khan out of politics.
Talks between the two sides could get in line with the thinking of the corps commanders, the chief justice, the president and even a number of sincere and friendly countries.
If Khan becomes part of the setup, the defections may come to an end and the party could be in a better position to contest the next election.
With daggers drawn on all sides, the government will not be able to pay full attention to the national budget, which will be the last and most crucial for the ruling coalition because it will seriously affect the outcome of the next elections due in October. The budget is to be presented during the next few weeks and the government is required to give relief to the masses.
Arrangements for free and fair elections will also be possible if the two sides hold talks. And in case they remain poles apart, as they are now, the credibility of the next balloting will remain a question mark.
PTI leaders must bear in mind that the ruling coalition is experienced enough to run the House without them. Resignations of as many as 122 PTI lawmakers were accepted in phases and still the house worked as usual. No fingers were raised about the validity or legitimacy of any law passed.
In other words, the absence of over 100 PTI lawmakers made no difference.
In case Khan returns to the National Assembly, he will get the right to become the leader of the opposition, throwing out Raja Riaz who is working according to the whims of the government.
As leader of the opposition, Khan will get the right to be consulted by the PM on who should be caretaker prime minister to supervise the October general election. If Raja Riaz retains the post, the prime minister will have a free hand to bring in the man of his choice.
Under the Constitution, the leader of the opposition has to be consulted by the prime minister for the appointment of the Chief Election Commissioner and the Chairman of the National Accountability Bureau. Incidentally, Khan has serious reservations with both incumbents.
Khan’s return to the house will also be in the PTI’s interest.
At present, PTI leaders are leaving the party one after the other on the pretext of the vandalism that occurred on May 9 in various cities against military property and symbols. The government will bleed the party further before the next elections. However, if Khan becomes part of the setup, the defections may come to an end and the party could be in a better position to contest the next election.
The Constitution has already been breached by the ruling PDM, by not holding elections in Punjab on May 14, despite orders from the Supreme Court.
The government remains unmoved and the breach of the Constitution is not being taken seriously enough. The complexity of the matter will grow in the times ahead, and nobody can assess the likely results.
But if the PTI is to return to parliament, will the two sides be able to find any solutions? Or has the lack of discourse crossed all bounds of recourse? One hopes the two sides will be in a position to come up with a new constitutional amendment to deal with this unprecedented situation.
— The writer is a senior and veteran journalist with a career spanning 40 years with major national and international newspapers.