How will the Cookie Crumble for Mr Imran Khan?
The dye is now cast for prime minister Imran Khan of Pakistan. The National Assembly (NA) Speaker Asad Qaiser has finally summoned the session to consider and vote on the opposition's no-confidence resolution on March 25 (Friday) at 11am.
When will the Cookie Crumble?
The 41st Session of the current National Assembly was summoned based on the requisition under Article 54 of the Constitution by the joint opposition along with the submission of the no-confidence motion (NCM) against the prime minister on March 08.
A session of the National Assembly is requisitioned by the opposition based on Article 54 with signatures of at least 25 per cent of the members. The application was made on March 08 and the speaker has a maximum of 14 days to summon a session.
Which implied that the session had to be called by March 22, but the Speaker has in the notification issued from the NA Secretariat which is seen with Dawn.com stated that as the motion adopted by the National Assembly on January 21 the National Assembly was to be provided for the 48th session of the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers on March 22 and 23.
While the opposition is concerned about the delay and is planning to take up the issue, the Speaker seems to have come up with a reasonable response for the delay.
What will make the Cookie Crumble?
In the national assembly, it's a numbers game that matters. The ruling Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) has 179 members in a 341 member assembly which includes 19 members of allies of the government such as MQM (P) – 7, the PML Q – 5, the BNP – 4 and the GDA – 3. In addition there are approximately 24 to 32 members of the J K Tareen faction of the PTI who are likely to vote for the NCM.
The opposition on the other hand has 162 members in the National Assembly.
The magic figure is 172. In case the allies of the government cross over the opposition will have 181 votes and Mr Khan will be deposed. If the JKT faction votes for the motion with or without the government allies, the opposition numbers will be even higher. But there is a caveat the decision for which will be given by the Supreme Court.
Article 63 A of the Constitution disqualifies a member of the national assembly in case they vote against the party whip but whether this is applied before or after the NCM is a dispute with the PTI claiming that the votes of members which are against the party whip can be disqualified by the Speaker and thus will not be counted. On the other hand, the opposition claims that this process will be applied post the vote.
There is a conspiracy theory that the United States wants Mr Imran Khan out and is working behind the scenes to have him removed from power. Recent fulminations of Mr Khan against European envoys who had asked Pakistan to vote for the motion condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine in the UN General Assembly. The public rant has been embarrassing for the country as a whole.
What are the contentious issues?
One is Article 63 A which has been highlighted above.
Second is the steadfastness of support to the opposition that has been extended by the J K T faction and allies of the PTI. The government is planning a huge rally on March 27 in the national capital and has claimed that dissident members will have to run the gauntlet of "millions of supporters," to reach the national assembly on the day of voting.
The role of the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has been alleged in the past in influencing the members of the national assembly. A last-minute phone call from the ISI on the day of the vote to a member is expected to sway his or her determination to support the opposition or the ruling party. This is the X factor.
The Army is presently not inclined to support Mr Khan given a series of differences ranging from the poor performance of the PTI government, Mr Khan's disinclination to compromise with the opposition calling out their leaders as thugs, refusal to hold talks with India and finally interfering in the command chain of the Army by delaying the transfer of Lt Gen Faiz Hameed the head of the ISI ordered by the Army Chief last year.
A Minus One option is also being discussed, implying continuing with the PTI government led by any other leader than Imran Khan. The options are Shah Mehmood Qureshi – the foreign minister or Pervez Khattak, the Defence Minister. The latter may be more acceptable to Mr Khan as he is a political lightweight and non-controversial. The Army may however decide on this one as well
What happens next?
Suppose the prime minister survives the vote of confidence. In that case, PM Khan will emerge from the crisis politically stronger and will also be on the roll for the following year's National Assembly elections.
If he falls, there are multiple options, a government led by the opposition, the PML N, as it is the second-largest party in the National Assembly coalition with the opposition parties. The question of who will be the prime minister in such a scenario may lead to consideration of Mr Shahid Khaqan Abbasi who is close to the PML N Supremo Nawaz Sharif, his brother while leader of the opposition in the NA and President of the Party Shahbaz Sharif may also be in the running. But Sharif's family internal politics may be the deciding factor.
Other options are early elections and technocrat led government for the interim. This may be a preferred option for political parties as no Party will like to be in power given the anti-incumbency factor due to massive economic problems with the IMF seeking answers on recent subsidies provided by the Imran Khan government.