April 21, 2023
ISLAMABAD – THE three branches of the state seem rather intent on turning the royal mess they are in into an even more intractable problem. With the executive unsure of whom to follow, the judiciary and legislature unwilling to take a step back, and the establishment still playing its games, the stand-off has turned into a Gordian knot that may take a lot of effort and genius to unravel.
There had been some speculation that the apex court may ‘take it easy’ on the elections matter after reports that several senior intelligence officials had ‘briefed’ several judges regarding the country’s ‘sensitive’ security situation.
However, Wednesday’s court proceedings, which saw a three-member bench set aside a defence ministry plea seeking the holding of elections to all assemblies on the same day, poured cold water on such hopes.
The long and short of it is that last year, the PDM parties overthrew the PTI government by using the constitutional process of a vote of no-confidence against then prime minister Imran Khan.
The ousted prime minister played his hand almost a year later by dissolving the assemblies of KP and Punjab using that same rulebook. Their tussle, over the past year, has now sucked in every player in the country’s power matrix. We now have a situation where no one has clean hands.
Elections to the Punjab and KP assemblies should have been held within the constitutional deadline but were not. However, while one did not expect the Supreme Court to turn a blind eye to the flouting of the Constitution, the manner in which the institution approached the challenge gave the government space to challenge its rulings simply because it could argue that they lacked endorsement from within.
Sometimes the simplest solution to an overwhelming problem is to cut right through it. The government should realise it cannot force any exceptions to the Constitution without setting a precedent that will fracture the very foundations of Pakistani democracy.
However, it can still resolve the crisis politically. The PTI and several key stakeholders in the government have expressed a renewed openness to talks. They should not waste time hesitating.
The PDM and PTI must agree to do politics differently than they have in the past. The two factions must come to a settlement on what a mutually acceptable roadmap for general elections can look like.
Once an agreement has been reached, changes or an exception to election rules can be made through parliament to ensure that all elections are held on the same date. If not, perhaps some other arrangement can be arrived at to protect each party’s interests till the country is ‘ready’ for polls.
The country has suffered enough for the egos of a few. It should not be made to suffer more.