The election quagmire

Jan 24, 2018
By Aitzaz A Chaudhary
The significance of the members of the Balochistan Assembly is being strongly felt in the national political arena. This is the first time this has happened in the five years of the current government’s incumbency.
During what was expected to be a rather mundane assembly session, Nawab Sanaullah Zehri, former Chief Minister (CM) of Balochistan gave his resignation amid the ongoing political crisis. He did so upon realizing that he will fail to garner adequate support after the no-confidence motion filed against him by the Balochistan Assembly on January 2.
On January 13, the Balochistan Assembly elected Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo as CM. Bizenjo is the third Balochistan CM in the last four-and-a-half years. However, the election of the incumbent CM as well as his 14 member cabinet did not completely diffuse the political crisis in the province. It was expected that the prevalent crisis will result in dissolution of the Balochistan Assembly and impact the Senate Elections in March.
While it seemed plausible that the dissolution of Balochistan assembly will have devastating impact on the upcoming Senate Elections, the frazzled PML-N leadership and its allies, however, believed that the crisis would not only effect the Senate elections, but also destabilize the current set-up and general elections, in case other provincial assembles like Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa decided to follow suit.
As a result, the PML-N leadership and its allies, did not shy away from accusing the opposing political parties for attempting to depose the current government. Additionally, Ahsan Iqbal, Interior Minister, blamed ‘hidden forces’ for orchestrating a spiteful anti-government demonstration.
Further adding to the misery and scepticism of the PML-N leadership, a joint opposition rally, under the leadership of Dr. Tahir ul Qadri, was held in Lahore to demand the resignation of the Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, and the Provincial Law Minister, Rana Sanaullah, over their alleged role in the unfortunate Model Town incident.
However, the much anticipated rally of the combined opposition proved to be a rather disappointing show of power and failed to make a dent in the existing political set-up. Nevertheless, AML chief, Shiekh Rasheed, in the hope of keeping the Balochistan political crisis alive, not only resigned from his seat in the National Assembly, but also urged Imran Khan to do the same.
The Balochistan crisis can only transform into a real national crisis if the PPP and PTI decide to dissolve the Sindh and KP assemblies a few months before the completion of their government’s respective tenure, for an early general election
But it is important for the opposition to be reminded of the fact that, the Senate is comprised of 104 members. That is, 23 members each from the four federating units, eight from FATA, and four from Islamabad, and the 23 seats allocated to a province consists of 14 general seats, four seats each are reserved for women and technocrats and one for a minority member, in accordance with the ’system of proportional representation by means of the single transferable vote’. Therefore, even if the Balochistan crisis results in the dissolution of the Assembly, the absence of 11 senators from Balochistan will have no effect, whatsoever, on the Senate polls as the remaining four electorates (three Provincial Assemblies and National Assembly) could not be deprived of their right of electing their representatives for the upper house only because of the crisis in one province.
The Balochistan crisis can only transform into a real national crisis if the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) decide to dissolve the assemblies of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a few months before the completion of their government’s respective tenure, for an early General Election. Interestingly, the dissolution of provincial assemblies may still not help the opposition in achieving its desired outcome, which is overthrowing the incumbent government, as our Constitution is silent on the issue.
Any recourse to dissolution of the National or Provincial Assemblies is bound within Constitutional parameters. In this regard, Article 58 of the Constitution stipulates that “the President shall dissolve the National Assembly if so advised by the Prime Minister”. Moreover, the President also has the discretion to dissolve the National Assembly where a vote of no confidence has been passed against the Prime Minister, and no other member of the National Assembly commands confidence of the majority of the members of the National Assembly. Similarly, the Governor, under Article 112, shall dissolve the Provincial Assembly if so advised by the Chief Minister and the Governor is also empowered, subject to the approval of the President, to dissolve the Provincial Assembly, if a vote of no confidence has been passed against the Chief Minister, and no other member of the Provincial Assembly commands confidence of the majority of the members of the same.
Much to the opposition’s consolation, our Constitutional scheme, arguably, provides the way for an early general election, in case the provincial assemblies or the national assembly dissolve before the completion of their tenure. Specifically, the Constitution, under Article 224(1), mandates that the General Election shall be held “within a period of sixty days immediately following the day on which the term of the Assembly is due to expire, unless the Assembly has been sooner dissolved”. However, it is equally important to acknowledge that the recent Constitution (Twenty-fourth Amendment) Act, 2017 as well as the ongoing delimitation process of the ECP, expected to be completed on May 3, effectively decimates any hope for the opposition to force the sitting government to schedule an early General Election.
An analysis of the post-rally political situation, for now, seems favourable for PML-N owing to disparities and differences of opinion between the opposing political parties. Neither the PPP in Sindh nor members of PTI, against the wishes of Imran Khan, are ready to dissolve their respective assemblies. Moreover, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, has clarified that his party would neither seek dissolution of assemblies nor indulge in any undemocratic act, which may sabotage the Senate or general elections.
Therefore, despite the overhyped ruckus, the Balochistan Assembly’s dissolution will not affect the Senate elections, let alone the 2018 general elections, as many would have hoped!
Daily Times, January 24, 2018

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