Saturday, January 13, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial Jan 13, 2018

The beginning of the end?

The much anticipated election of a new Chief Minister (CM) for Balochistan after former CM Nawab Sanaullah Zehri resigned on January 9 on the eve of voting on the no-confidence motion against him transpired on January 13. The result was an almost foregone conclusion, but CM-elect Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo managed to get a healthy majority with 41 votes from the house of 65 members. His own party, the PML-Q, only has five members but he received support across the board from all the parties except the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and the National Party (NP). The PkMAP put up its own candidate, Agha Liaquat Ali, less because they had any hopes of winning and more because they argued the election should be seen as democratic. Their candidate managed 13 of the 14 votes of their members, Khalid Langove deciding to vote for Bizenjo in retaliation, as he put it after the vote in the Assembly, for Zehri’s government having charged him with corruption. It appears one of the members of the NP may also have voted for Bizenjo despite the party’s stance that it would abstain from participating in protest at the failure of the former coalition allies’ inability to agree on a consensus candidate. Those voting against the party whip include 19 of the 21 members of the PML-N, the two exceptions being Speaker Raheela Durrani, whose casting vote was not required, and Zehri himself. This wholesale abandonment of Zehri by his own party and many of his coalition allies reflects how deep the grievances and resentments against Zehri ran. However, the ‘floor-crossers’ who voted against their leadership’s instructions run the risk of disqualification under Article 63A, which lays down a vote for CM as one of the four instances where defying the party whip attracts this penalty. Whether any such challenge is in the offing it is too early to say, and may even prove unlikely judging from the mood of the house.

CM Abdul Qudoos Bizenjo thus becomes the youngest chief executive of the restive province, but there remains a cloud over the legitimacy of his election to the house in the general elections of 2013, given that he won with just 544 votes of the 683 or 1.18 percent of the total votes actually cast in his Awaran constituency. The area has been a hotbed of the nationalist insurgency sputtering on in Balochistan, and parties such as the Balochistan National Party-Mengal with a traditional base of political support in the area have been complaining since the elections that they were ‘prevented’ from fully participating or canvassing in the constituency. Be that as it may, considerations of democratic legitimacy of the new incumbent and the issue of floor crossing may well be swept under the carpet for the expedient reason of accepting the new ‘order’ and moving on from the recent past. While CM Bizenjo will now be installed in office and has even indicated the makeup of his cabinet, the PkMAP candidate Agha Liaquat Ali referred in his speech after the house had voted to the dark forebodings that have surrounded events in Balochistan since the no-confidence motion was moved. These centre on the possibility that the new CM may only have been brought to office to preside over the dissolution of the Balochistan Assembly, a step that may trigger similar dissolutions of the Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assemblies by the incumbent PPP and PTI governments respectively. Were that to transpire, as many fear, it would confirm that the move against Zehri, based as it was on real grievances, may be part of a bigger plan to prevent the Senate elections in March, which the PML-N was anticipated to win a majority in, and even the general elections in July-August. Any such rolling up of the present dispensation could cause a constitutional and political crisis, the former because of the census issue, the latter because such moves would be seen as aimed at preventing Nawaz Sharif and the PML-N reaping the benefits of their still intact considerable vote bank. Pakistan cannot afford the ramifications of the unfolding of such a scenario, the much touted longer term interim government idea notwithstanding. Democracy has struggled, and it appears is still struggling to establish firm roots in our soil.

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