Politicians are never taught. After the alliance’s victory in the Sunday by-election, what should have been a simple walkover for the joint candidate of the PTI and PML-Q is no longer a given. As the ruling coalition led by the PML-N attempts to salvage the minority Hamza Shehbaz administration, the run-off election for chief minister of Punjab today has been marred by allegations of horse-trading.
In Pakistani politics, political horse dealing is not a recent development. Almost every major political party, including the PTI, has mastered the art with generous assistance from the intelligence apparatus, starting with the “abduction” of independent lawmakers by the then-PML back in 1988 to deny the PPP a chance to muster its majority in the provincial assembly and to get its own candidate elected as chief minister.
In the lead-up to the 2018 elections, the manner Imran Khan was supported by the agencies forced many candidates in Punjab fielded by the PML-N to either exit the race or seek PTI tickets to remain in the battle is still vivid in people’s minds. More recently, the parties in the ruling coalition have been charged with paying off or rewarding PTI lawmakers to defect so that the PML-N could hold control of Punjab and maintain the stability of the central administration.
People still clearly remember how Imran Khan’s backing from the agencies during the 2018 elections drove numerous PML-N-backed candidates in Punjab to withdraw from the race or apply for PTI tickets in order to continue fighting. More recently, the parties in the ruling coalition have been accused of bribing or compensating PTI lawmakers to defect in order for the PML-N to retain power in Punjab and preserve the stability of the federal government.
The provincial government should have been requested to resign by the ruling coalition once it was obvious that the opposition had reclaimed the majority in the assembly following the by-elections. In the absence of that, it was anticipated that the PML-N and its supporters would at the very least refrain from using horse dealing to convert their minority into a majority. However, the PML-N and its coalition partners have chosen the dishonest course in their effort to preserve the current government in Punjab out of fear of being restricted to Islamabad.
If things get heated during today’s session, it won’t help the cause of democracy. The PML-N and its supporters need to back off and stop doing anything unethical or that goes against the law and the Constitution if democracy is to advance. Holding early elections to obtain a new mandate is the best course of action if they worry that a hostile PTI-PML-Q administration in Pakistan’s most populous province will prevent them from carrying out their political and economic programme.