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Government’s Obduracy Triggers Political Crisis

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The latest round of talks between the ruling coalition and the opposition parties was marred by an unfortunate exchange of heated rhetoric. The PML-N leaders, in particular, adopted a more aggressive stance this time around, with the Defence Minister Khawaja Asif dismissing the talks as a futile exercise and Javed Latif going so far as to call the opposition party a “terrorist” organization. The PTI leaders, understandably, questioned the government’s sincerity in engaging in meaningful negotiations in such a charged atmosphere.

To make matters worse, the government’s recent actions, such as the police raid on former Punjab Chief Minister Pervez Elahi’s residence in Lahore, only served to exacerbate the already tense political climate. Despite these challenges, however, there were moments during the talks when it seemed like some progress was being made. For instance, both sides agreed that national and provincial elections should be held on the same day, a move that was facilitated by the PTI’s willingness to consider neutral caretaker administrations to oversee the polls.

In fact, the PTI negotiators led by Shah Mahmood Qureshi went even further, offering to assist the government in securing a one-time constitutional cover to extend the election date beyond the 90-day period stipulated by the constitution through an amendment. This gesture of goodwill was not lost on the government, which lacks the two-thirds majority required to pass such an amendment on its own.

However, it is worth noting that there are still several hurdles to be overcome before this agreement can be translated into action. For one, the opposition parties are still calling for the resignation of the current Election Commission members, whom they accuse of being biased towards the ruling party. There is also the question of whether the government will be willing to accept a caretaker setup that is truly neutral and not influenced by its own interests.

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Moreover, there is the challenge of restoring trust between the two sides, which has been severely eroded by the acrimonious exchanges in recent weeks. The PTI leaders have accused the government of using state machinery to intimidate and harass opposition members, while the ruling coalition has accused the opposition of attempting to destabilize the country through street protests.

In this context, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal of these talks is to ensure a free and fair election that reflects the will of the people. This cannot be achieved through brinksmanship or mudslinging. Rather, it requires a genuine commitment to dialogue and compromise on both sides.

Negotiations between the government and opposition have hit a snag due to a lack of consensus on a common date for elections. The government is unwilling to hold elections before October, after the completion of parliament’s full term in August. The opposition, on the other hand, proposed dissolving the Sindh and Balochistan assemblies in May for elections to be held in mid-July. However, the talks ended inconclusively, with no indication that negotiations will resume.

Offering to hold elections a month or two earlier could have created a national consensus and ended the political deadlock, but the ruling coalition’s obstinacy on the election date suggests a desire to delay the polls as long as possible due to fear of an unfavorable electoral outcome. It is beyond comprehension what difference a few months will make to the political fortunes of coalition parties, as time has been working against them with PML-N steadily losing political ground.

The failure to reach an agreement means that the confrontation between the government and opposition will intensify, with the risk of greater political turmoil ahead. If an accord is not reached, the ruling coalition will go back to the Supreme Court, and followers will agitate in the streets. The country will remain in a state of limbo if the ruling coalition continues to delay polls to cling to power.

The government cited its trade policy announcement and budget presentation as reasons for not conceding on the election date, but its tardy decisions and mismanagement have left the economy teetering on the brink of a breakdown. The elusive bailout deal with the IMF remains delayed due to the Fund’s insistence that Pakistan fully fund the external financing gap for the remaining part of this fiscal year.

The delay is imposing a heavy cost on the economy, reflected in depleting foreign exchange reserves, tumbling exports, and the virtual collapse of business confidence. The economy is precariously poised with the fall in exports, decline in overseas remittances, inflation at a 60-year high, and the rupee losing record value against the dollar. Further delay in the Fund programme could plunge the economy into a graver crisis.

The coalition government seems to be expending more time and energy on political battles and power tussles instead of steering the shipwrecked economy to safer shores. It has now declared war on the Supreme Court, lashing out against court orders, exploiting divisions among judges, and characterizing their confrontation with the SC as one designed to assert parliament’s supremacy.

Their aggressive statements seem to suggest they are deliberately provoking the court to take action against them, aimed at discrediting the court to justify the government’s defiance of its order to hold provincial elections in Punjab. These clashes between state institutions have left the governance system in disarray and on the verge of collapse.

Delaying elections will only kick the can down the road and keep the country in a state of limbo. It will set the stage for an even bigger crisis later, with more profound consequences for the country’s economic and political stability. A government with a fresh mandate is necessary sooner rather than later to deal with Pakistan’s worst economic crisis on a sustainable basis and not by band-aid measures.

In conclusion, the failure of the government and opposition to agree on a common date for elections is a worrying sign for Pakistan’s political and economic stability. The ruling coalition’s obduracy on the election date is only explicable by its desire to delay the polls as long as possible out of fear that the electoral outcome will not be in its favour.

The ongoing political crisis has left the governance system in disarray and on the verge of collapse. The dire economic situation of the country makes elections necessary sooner rather than later so that a government with a fresh mandate can deal with Pakistan’s worst economic crisis on a sustainable basis.

The government’s political distractions, tardy decisions, and mismanagement have left the economy teetering on the brink of a breakdown. The delay in the IMF deal is continuing to impose a heavy cost on the economy, and further delay could plunge the precarious economy into a graver crisis.

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