Former prime minister Imran Khan released on bail after his controversial arrest. Photo: AFP / Aamir Qureshi

PESHAWAR – The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan is facing a challenge to its political survival with the economy not doing well and Khan’s relations with the powerful military hitting rock bottom.

However, political analysts and senior politicians say a joint political move by opposition parties would come to nothing if Pakistan’s powerful army continued to support the Khan-led PTI government, in power since 2018. 

In the past, the opposition parties made several attempts to dislodge the PTI government which fell flat. But it seems this time they are very confident and relaxed. They are holding their cards close to their chests, leaving the government to guess about their plans. 

Some media analysts believe the establishment wants to get rid of Khan and may be using the opposition parties to make that possible. Gul Bukhari, a renowned columnist, alluded to army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa when he tweeted: “No-confidence move is Bajwa’s game. Do not play. Do not be a facilitator. He who brought the baby should himself show him the door. why are you helping? Let him do it.” 

On February 11, the nine-party opposition alliance the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) announced in Lahore that it would exercise its democratic right to table a no-confidence motion in the parliament to bring down Khan’s government which, they said, had taken the country to the brink of economic disaster. 

Holding Prime Minister Khan responsible for the surging inflation across the country, the PDM said he made life even more difficult for the poor.

The PDM has not announced a date for the no-confidence motion, but Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the group’s head and the amir of Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Islam (JUI), said on Monday: “We will announce the date of the no-trust move after holding consultations and after contacting the government allies.”

Pakistan has a history of long protest marches, like this one in 2009. Photo: WikiCommons

Protest march on hold

The PDM had planned a long protest march starting on March 23, but now says it could wait until the date of the no-confidence move was finalized.

The PDM has been demanding the resignation of the prime minister since 2020, when Pakistan’s major political parties formed their alliance against the ruling PTI government.

The opposition parties had planned to use all their political and democratic options, including public meetings, a long march to Islamabad, no-confidence motions and mass resignations from parliament to seek Khan’s resignation, and an end to the role of the establishment in politics.

In its 26-point declaration, the PDM vowed to end the establishment’s interference in politics, hold free and fair elections with no role for the armed forces and intelligence agencies, release political prisoners, withdraw cases against journalists and install across the board accountability under a new accountability law. 

However, last year differences erupted in the PDM over the mass resignation issue when the PPP contended the resignations should be tendered in the end when all other options had been fully exercised.

In April last year, the PDM decided to part ways with the PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP).

Although the PPP and ANP are not part of the PDM, in the parliament they support the combined opposition parties and back the no-confidence motion by the PDM.

Days before the PDM announced the no-confidence move against prime minister Khan, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) president Shahbaz Shariff hosted PPP supremo and former Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari and PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari for lunch at his residence in Lahore.

Talking to the media later, Shahbaz, flanked by Bilawal and PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, said the PML-N had agreed on a common agenda with the PPP of working together with the aim of sending the PTI-led government packing. 

Pakistan’s Parliament House in Islamabad. Photo: WikiCommons

Political posturing

“We will surely support the opposition parties’ and no-trust motion in the parliaments, but will not rejoin the PDM,” Zahid Khan, the ANP’s central information secretary, told Asia Times. He said the party’s central committee would decide if the PDM had formally invited the party to join the alliance.   

Political hobnobbing among the PTI coalition partners and the PDM leaders have caused panic in the ranks of PTI leaders, but they are laughing off the PDM initiative, saying they did not have the required numbers in parliament, so they need to woo the PTI’s disgruntled groups and its coalition partners for support.

Pakistan’s constitution does not allow floor-crossing. The provision stops a parliamentarian from changing loyalties. The PDM said it would strive to win the support of PTI coalition partners who had serious reservations about Khan’s economic policies.

A group of PTI parliamentarians has already formed a separate cluster within the party under Jehangir Tarin, a sugar baron who was at one time Khan’s right-hand man.   

Analysts claim the defection clause under Article 63A of the Pakistan constitution empowers a party head to disqualify a member who votes or abstains from voting in the House against the direction of the Parliamentary Party to which he belongs.

Defection laws, they said, primarily require the disqualification of members who do not toe the party line during the election of the prime minister or chief minister or a vote of confidence or a vote of no-confidence or a Money Bill or a Constitution (Amendment) Bill.

“These clauses certainly discourage the parliamentarians to go against their party’s avowed policies in a matter of voting on confidence or no-confidence motions,” Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Taj Haider told Asia Times.

Crossing the floor is not allowed in Pakistan’s parliament. Photo: WikiCommons

Defections not allowed

He said the defection clause means that not a single PTI member can violate the party’s discipline and vote against the party leadership. 

“Ultimately the opposition would need support from the coalition partners like the Mutahida Quomi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Muslim League Quaid-e-Azam (PMLQ) and they would not be on the side of the opposition if the military establishment is so willed,” he said.  

Khan is under immense pressure to address an unprecedented economic meltdown, igniting the highest inflation rate of 13%, unemployment, industrial stagnation and a sharp polarization in the country. The supply and demand side distortions have pushed the prices of commodities, electricity and gas sky high. 

“Khan had vowed to alienate corruption, create 10 million jobs, eradicate poverty and make a new and well-off Pakistan before coming to power. All these promises have become fantasies because he has not delivered and miserably failed on all fronts,” Zahid Khan added. 

Pakistan’s national assembly has 342 members. The ruling PTI and its allies enjoy the support of 166 members, while opposition parties have 158 members and the rest are elected as independents and from tribal areas.