RED ZONE FILES: Search options – Journal

There are no options, the PTI official said. There are always options. When there is none, we find them; and when they are not found, they are created. In recent days, Islamabad has been in the grip of “options” fever as the angry government spits political blood. In every meeting, at every meeting and at every private dinner, there is a speech, and a single speech: what are the options?

Dawn has explored the red zone deeply, spoken to people from all political backgrounds, and polled obscure figures for a list of all possible options. Well, based on all of those conversations, here they are.

OPTION 1: The PTI government completes its five-year term. This option is based on maintaining the status quo with regard to the current parliamentary arrangement as well as the absence of major internal or external upheavals. In other words, this option assumes that the PTI has overcome the controversy surrounding the appointment of the ISI Director General by asserting the constitutional powers enjoyed by the Prime Minister. However, the situation is not as sanitary as many party members would like to assume.

In the current scenario, Option 1 would be equivalent to the following: (a) Prime Minister Imran Khan will notify the new ISI CEO and the impasse on the appointment will end; (b) But the split between the PTI and the establishment is unlikely to heal; (c) the new ISI CEO will take over the overhang of this tension and will not have to go the “extra mile” for the PTI government; (d) this “slight setback” will result in problems for the government whose solutions were generally “outsourced”, including basic political management of members as well as legislative matters, and sometimes even ensuring a quorum; (f) the establishment – ravaged by controversy – will reconsider its priorities ahead of the next general election and whether that means a preference for a level playing field – relatively speaking, of course – PTI will be at a distinct disadvantage; (e) At best, the PTI is making its way to the general election and will be a weakened version of the party that, until early this month, boasted of another five-year term.

OPTION 2: An internal change with PTI remaining in government. This option is based on a decision that the status quo cannot be maintained. It also recognizes that “less is more” in the sense that the minimum number of cards in the deck must be shuffled to achieve the desired result. This would translate into intensive behind-the-scenes influence peddling – similar to that which took place before the 2018 election – to reduce Treasury figures to a manageable number. It would also be a delicate engagement with the opposition benches in order to forge an agreement that would allow them to cooperate. The opposition will obviously ask, “What’s in it for us?” The answer should be clear and categorical. Once done, the following things can happen:

(a) The opposition files a motion of censure against the Prime Minister under article 95 of the Constitution. Article 95 (4) says: “If the resolution (…) is adopted by a majority of the members of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister ceases to exercise his functions. (b) The house will have to elect a new leader and a member of the ruling PTI will be appointed by the party. (c) In accordance with the prior arrangements, he will be elected because those in the ruling coalition and the party that voted against the Prime Minister would now vote in favor of the new candidate. (d) The PTI will continue to lead the coalition but with a new Prime Minister. (e) This can only happen with the understanding and cooperation of the opposition. (f) The general election will be held on time in 2023.

OPTION 3: An internal change with PTI pushed into the opposition. This option is an advanced version of option 2 and will come into play if there is some resistance from the PTI on this option. Exercising this option would mean, like the previous option, weaning the coalition partners and the desired number of party members and involving them in a new coalition. This option would also require an advanced level of negotiations aimed at appointing the new leader of the chamber from the current opposition as well as guarantees for the conduct of legislative elections. Option 3 is a time consuming option as it has several moving parts that need to interlock in order to move smoothly like a well oiled wheel. Once the required preparation and homework is completed, Option 3 can be done as follows:

a) A new majority coalition is assembled, resulting in a change of coalition partners and disgruntled PTI members; (b) the PML-N cannot join the coalition as a partner in government but votes in favor for the vote of confidence; (c) the new coalition could revolve around the PPP as a larger party, with smaller coalition members as well as dissident PTI factions; (d) elections are held on time in 2023.

OPTION 4: PM calls for early elections. Sensing the creeping possibility of options 1, 2 and 3, the Prime Minister decides to exercise his own option of dissolving the National Assembly and opting for early elections. The Prime Minister knows that this may not be the best time to get a new term given the problems facing the electorate. Planning Minister Asad Umar said inflation would not slow down until at least the middle of next year. The Prime Minister would also know that choosing that option at that point would mean his hand was forced. However, he can calculate that given the other options, this one may be the least bad. However, here are some possible by-products of this option: (a) the PTI will face a hostile electorate due to difficult economic conditions and soaring inflation; (b) PTI can also face desertions in the ranks with elected officials sniffing the wind; (c) the establishment’s retreat will empower its opponents and deprive the PTI of some of the oxygen it inhaled while breathing deeply during the 2018 elections.

OPTION 5: Not an option at this time.

In the hard power game, perception has already started to shape reality in weird and capricious ways. Inside the red zone, the official smirk, yes, let’s go; and the swagger, yes that too. The faithful of the PTI party, imbued with the passion for their original ideals, remain as innocently optimistic as they were in 2013. games – they know there is a sudden chill in the air, and it doesn’t can not be good. The drooping of those shoulders and the grimace of that expression, it all tells a story they’ve heard so often. Things change. But not that much.

So options? There are always options.

Posted in Dawn, le 21 October 2021

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