Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has won a majority at the Center, and he is due to take oath as the head of the government in the days to come.
However, Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province, remains without any party taking an absolute majority. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) and the leading PTI have little difference in the number of seats they have won. All eyes are on the 29 independents.
Punjab Has the Real Power
Pakistan’s armed forces, bureaucracy and political elite (even during military regimes) come from Punjab. Punjab takes a majority of the civilian budget because it has the largest population of all the provinces. More than half of Pakistan’s population still resides in Punjab.
Punjab also has a GDP of USD 173 billion with a steady growth rate and its share in the national GDP is 56.4 percent. Therefore, dropping Punjab is a costly proposition.
After the 18th Amendment, much of the administrative powers have been devolved to the provinces of Pakistan, and in this regard, Punjab is the most powerful. The provinces now have 17 new ministries, and the share of provinces in the federal revenue pool has gone up from 46 percent to 57.5 percent.
Furthermore, Punjab’s former Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif used the province to garner a stellar reputation for good governance and economic development. His focus on administration was unrivaled by PTI’s government in Khyber Pukhtunkhawa. Publicising his achievements, Sharif used Lahore as a flagship city for his development and construction projects. However, his plans and policies did become controversial over time. For example, the Orange Train damaged or demolished key historical buildings in Lahore, but became functional nevertheless.
Shahbaz Sharif has projected himself as the benchmark of administrative achievement, and every ambitious politician in Pakistan would like to challenge or break that image. PTI has many such politicians in its ranks.
The establishment relies on Punjab as its power base. Months before the election campaigns began, talks about the southern half of Punjab becoming a separate province called “Saraiki Suba” started doing the rounds. Eventually, a shortcut was taken. Threats and incentives were used to swing the PML-N contestants away from their party. Some PML-N candidates confessed this on record.
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A high-profile PML-N leader, Chaudhary Nisar, separated from the party after over three decades of association, and gathered about a dozen independent electives under the election symbol of the jeep. This wasn’t a party but just a group of independents under one symbol. They lost miserably in the national assembly and have three seats in the Punjab Assembly.
Thus, the attempt to break away a significant portion of the electorate away from the PML-N failed.
The Current Situation
Imran Khan has won in Khyber Pukhtunkhawa as well, but that’’s a smaller, western province. Hence, a victory at the Centre has little meaning without a government in Punjab, considering Balochistan and Sindh already have other parties in power.
Imran Khan’s promise of “Naya Pakistan” is based on delivering education, jobs, health facilities and “justice” to his voters in a self-styled left-leaning government. The promise can barely be delivered if he doesn’t hold the reigns in Punjab.
The Election Commission of Pakistan has now announced the official results of the elections. In Punjab, the final breakdown of seats is this:
- Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N): 127
- Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI): 122
- Independents: 29
- Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PMLQ): 07
- Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians (PPP): 06
- Other parties: 03
So far, PML-N has failed to gather enough independents on its side. PTI already has a possible coalition with PMLN-Q, a faction of the PMLN that broke away in 1999 and formed a government in Punjab in 2002. Even today, the don’t have smooth ties with PML-N.
The PMLQ leadership has refused to cooperate with the PML-N, and instead asked the PTI for the post of chief minister or Deputy Prime Minister in return for their cooperation.
Pakistan People’s Party has six seats. The independents have the greatest leverage.
PTI is Bound to Snatch Power in Punjab
Last Friday, Hamza Shahbaz, son of the former Chief Minister of Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, and nephew of Nawaz Sharif (and himself an aspirant for the prestigious post of Chief Minister of Punjab) had a press conference.
Hamza Shahbaz said his party allowed Imran Khan and PTI to make a government in Pakistan’s northwestern province of Khyber Pukhtunkhawa despite not having an absolute majority in 2013. He added that it was Mian Nawaz Sharif’s idea to not lose moral authority by forming a coalition through horse-trading.
However, PTI’s Secretary of Information, Fawad Chaudhry, has said that PTI will not just make a government in Punjab but also have its own member as the chief minister. So far, half a dozen independents have joined in, and PTI is working hard to bring more winning candidates on their side.
PML-N is in a poor position to bargain. Ten years of incumbency, no majority at the Centre, and very little winning margin over PTI in Punjab makes them a not-so-lucrative party right now.
In colloquial language, the phrase “Takht Lahore” is used when speaking about Sharif who retains a residence here, and has been in power here for a decade. Therefore, ceding Lahore and Punjab will have a symbolic value. PTI neither holds moral stands right now, nor is it willing to make compromises.
But if they form a government with this narrow margin and the help of coalition partners, the PML-N will start questioning the mandate, and bring up the rigging charges again. There will be an aggressive opposition that will hold almost one-third of the house, and will take their non-cooperation to the streets eventually, just like Imran Khan did in 2014.
PTI has indulged in all sorts of traditional political manoeuvring to come to power, and they need Punjab to even appear to have delivered their promise of “change” or “Tabdeeli” at the end of these five years. Therefore, in all likelihood, PTI will take Punjab, after ten years of PML-N holding power over it. The political atmosphere in Pakistan’s Punjab province will remain tense for some time now.