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A stalemate?

Editorial Board
Wednesday, Feb 21, 2024

The coordination committees of the PML-N and PPP held a sixth meeting on Tuesday to reach an agreement over the formation of the future government after both parties failed to secure National Assembly seats in sufficient numbers to form their setup in the Centre. Nothing much happened and we seem to be stuck in a political limbo of sorts, something alluded to by Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari who has said he foresees a “dangerous stalemate” if ‘someone’ doesn’t change their position. It seems the PPP and PML-N are not on the same page as regards power-sharing, the PPP chairman pointedly saying that if he has to vote for the PML-N, he will "do so on my own terms". Media reports indicate that the bilateral talks between the two parties have dragged on owing to the PPP’s refusal to join the PML-N’s cabinet despite agreeing to support its candidate for the prime minister’s slot. However, in exchange for its support to the PML-N, the Bilawal-led party is eyeing key constitutional positions including the office of president for Asif Ali Zardari.

There are questions now why both parties are not willing to take a step back. The PPP’s position first: some analysts say that ideally, the PPP would have wanted to sit in the opposition. However, since no party can form a government without them and the PPP would want the democratic system to continue, the PPP will be part of a coalition government but does not want any cabinet positions. The PPP may well get the Balochistan government in the end as well as some constitutional position(s). Others say that the PPP is drawing a hard bargain and should show some flexibility because the more the delay in government formation, the more political uncertainty will follow. If we look at the PML-N’s position, the party is all set to form a government in Punjab but it needs the PPP in the centre. However, it is not agreeing to the PPP’s formula which sees only the PML-N being responsible for running the government. Many PML-N leaders have said that their party is not dying to get into power but will do this for the betterment of Pakistan but that they want a shared responsibility and the PPP cannot shy away from this.

Some hard facts: while the PPP’s position is understandable, it is also important for the party to understand that a country cannot be run in a coalition without sharing responsibilities with the other partners. Both the PML-N and the PPP are well aware that this government will face a lot of difficulties in the first two-three years. With the country’s economy in doldrums and with the PTI as a disruptive force in opposition, governing will be a tough task. This is why all political parties – be it the PTI, PML-N and PPP – are willing to take provincial governments but not the federal government. When the federation has to give money to provinces and the provinces just spend it without collecting any revenue in the form of taxes, it puts the burden on the centre. Thus, these two parties that will have at least three provincial governments should think about strengthening the 18th Amendment by fulfilling provincial obligations and not just putting everything on the federal government. It is time to take tough decisions for the federation and for the people of Pakistan. It is time to end this stalemate and form a government and run it together. We desperately need more unity and less divisiveness.