Portent of things to come?
Chief Minister (CM) Balochistan Nawab Sanaullah Zehri faces a serious challenge from the no-confidence motion moved against him by 14 members of the opposition and his own coalition parties. This development prompted the CM to curtail his foreign visit and rush home to deal with the crisis. His first act on touching home soil was to sack Home Minister Sarfaraz Bugti of his own party the PML-N and Special Assistant to the CM on Excise and Taxation Mir Amanullah Notezai of the PML-Q for supporting the motion. He then held a meeting with a delegation of coalition partner Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) led by its chief Mehmood Khan Achakzai, who pledged his support to the CM. Later Achakzai cautioned the movers of the motion not to play into the hands of non-democratic forces. He said the motion was intended to punish then for supporting former prime minister Nawaz Sharif. Rifts had been reported for some time in the ranks of the PML-N-led coalition over the allocation of development funds and the replacement of former deputy speaker of the Assembly, Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo of the coalition’s PML-Q with a member of the PkMAP without consulting the PML-Q. These and other issues of discord point towards the failure of the CM to take his coalition colleagues, and even members of his own party, along. The no-confidence move therefore seems to have been gestating for some time. In a house of 65 MPAs, with 52 with the ruling coalition and 13 with the opposition, on paper the CM’s position may appear unassailable. But if the sacking of one minister of the PML-N and one of the PML-Q, plus the resignation of the PML-N’s Minister for Fisheries Mir Sarfaraz Domki are indicators, the CM does not seem to command the confidence of his own party or the coalition. If these three members are added to the 14 movers of the no-confidence motion, they only need another 16 members to succeed in removing the CM.
What could be the possible outcomes of the move and its implications for the political lay of the land? If the move succeeds and the Assembly chooses a successor, the Assembly could survive until the March Senate elections and the general elections around July-August. If no successor is chosen, fears are being expressed of the under threat CM dissolving the Assembly. That would of course put the cat among the pigeons since the Senate elections would be disrupted and, quite possibly, set in motion a rolling process of the dissolution of other provincial Assemblies that would pose questions about the general elections. Of course there is nothing to prevent the National and provincial Assembly elections being held on separate days. But this new uncertainty in the country’s most troubled province could possibly spread to the rest of the country. How that may impact the general elections schedule is not known. Political turmoil in Balochistan and its possible impact on the rest of the country could disrupt the preparations of the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold the general elections according to the constitutional schedule. The resort to the 1998 census as the basis for holding general elections is beset with its own set of problems, including the need for a constitutional amendment and possible legal challenges to any such proposal. There appear therefore to be a lot of balls in the air with few answers.
Although Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo, the central figure reportedly in the no-confidence move, denied any ‘hidden powers’ were behind the gambit, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Balochistan’s crisis could be the beginning of a process to deny the ruling PML-N the advantages of the impending Senate and general elections, in both of which they remain the front runners despite their troubles. If Assembly dissolutions render the Senate and general elections uncertain, the outcome could be a technocratic government of longer duration, an idea with some takers here and there.