Here we go again

Editorial Board
Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

Finally, we have a government in the making. Close to midnight on Tuesday, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Asif Ali Zardari and Shehbaz Sharif held a press conference in Islamabad, confirming that the two political parties will be forming a government together following the February 8 polls. Bilawal announced that Shehbaz Sharif would be the next prime minister and Asif Zardari would be the joint candidate for both parties for the president’s slot. This was a mature press conference at a time when Pakistan is facing political uncertainty and a looming economic crisis. For those asking if the PML-N and PPP had ‘stolen’ the PTI’s mandate as it was the single largest party in the National Assembly, Shehbaz Sharif clarified that he had asked the PTI-backed winning candidates to prove their majority and form the government, but they didn’t have sufficient numbers. It is worth noting that the PTI had rejected engaging with the PPP, PML-N and MQM in government formation. When a party has decided it wants to sit in the opposition and will only form a government if it gets a simple majority, then it is not incumbent upon other parties to sit quietly and not move forward. The PML-N and the PPP have done the right thing by announcing government formation because the delay was adding to the uncertainty after an important yet controversial election.

The PPP’s stance from day one was that, while it would vote for the PML-N’s prime ministerial candidate, it would not take any cabinet positions in the federal government. So far, that is the case. The PPP will get the posts of governor in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the chairperson of the Senate. It will also form a coalition government in Balochistan with the help of the PML-N. As for the PML-N, it will get the position of the speaker of the National Assembly as well as governorship in Sindh and Balochistan. The PPP will thus form a government in two provinces – Sindh and Balochistan – while the PML-N will form a government in Punjab with Maryam Nawaz as the province’s chief minister. The PTI will form a government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. With the three mainstream political parties forming governments in all four provinces, this is a move in the right direction as all three will be stakeholders in different provinces. So far, the PTI has said that it will sit in parliament, and on the legal front will keep fighting for seats it thinks were allegedly rigged against it. Some analysts say it would have been better if the PTI had formed a coalition government with the help of the PPP so that its voters would have had something to look forward to. However, it may just be because of its voters that it has decided not to form a coalition government with any other party as its voters would not have been happy with this decision. The jury is still out on whether or not this will be a good political decision in the long run for the PTI.

As for a new government, which has been christened PDM 2.0 by many, there are many challenges ahead. It is different from the original PDM government that was there for only 16 months and that too after a successful vote of no-confidence. PDM 1.0 had PPP in the cabinet and there was a PTI-appointed president while this time around it will be the PPP’s Zardari in the presidency. Shehbaz Sharif will have five years this time if the government is able to complete its tenure. This will be his second stint as PM while it will also be Zardari’s second stint as the president. The federation may have a weak government by the looks of it but at the same time, these two parties have enough stakes in the system to fight tooth and nail to save it from collapse.