TThe defeat of Finance Minister Abdul Hafiz Sheikh in the senate elections at the hands of joint opposition candidate and former prime minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has sparked debate over the sheikh’s fate.
It is not the first time Sheikh has competed for a senate seat as he has been elected three times to the upper house of parliament in the past.
Interestingly, he was once the finance minister in Mr government. Gilani and competed for the senate seat under his tutelage as well.
But the latest can safely be called the most critical contest of his political career so far.
At least 48 senate seats were up for grabs in elections held on March 3 but seats in Islamabad where Gilani faced him and then finance minister Imran Khan were the fiercest battles when they were hailed as a vote of confidence in Khan. government.
Opposition supporters launched a joint campaign against Sheikh’s candidacy with PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto calling the finance minister a joint candidate for the “PTI-IMF”.
PML-N leader Maryam Nawaz, a spokesman for Mohammad Zubair in his media talks stated that Sheikh has no stake in Pakistan and he will leave the country to take up previous jobs with the IMF or the World Bank after his ministry work ends here.
As happens in politics anywhere in the world, petty politics takes precedence over principles, on the contrary the PPP and PML-N make agreements with the IMF during their tenure to support the country’s finances.
Amidst such high drama, Mr Shaikh lost by five votes to Mr Gilani and now the debate is raging on whether Mr Shaykh will continue as finance minister.
By law, Pak Shaikh, who was appointed finance minister in January, can continue his work until early July as non-elected ministers can keep a portfolio for six months.
Analysts doubt that the government will run the risk of removing Mr Shaikh as they have just completed a landmark staff-level agreement with the IMF to continue the $ 6 billion program and to tackle “the challenges created by the pandemic (Covid-19). … ”.
“For now, he will continue as finance minister and later he will probably be reverted to his previous position as Special Assistant to the Prime Minister of Finance,” said renowned economist Shahid Hasan Siddiqui.
Some reports suggest that once the current political dust settles down, the government could again try to install Shaikh in the senate by asking one of its senators to resign to pave the way for the finance minister to fill in.
But the main question is is there any hope for the light at the end of the tunnel? Is there a possible end to this high political drama in the near future?
Mr Shaykh’s defeat was the first major blow to Prime Minister Imran’s government since it was founded two and a half years ago with the full support of all powers. Does he still enjoy unwavering support from within his political base and from the forces that will give him the strength to push back the opposition?
If Pakistan’s turbulent political history is any guide, then political turmoil of such a scale will never return to normal.
In such a chaotic situation, the government seems unlikely to concentrate on critical national issues like the economy and is always inclined to keep firefighters in power.
At a time when the major political drama is unfolding, it is unrealistic to expect the government to undertake structural reforms that are so delayed, badly needed and politically risky that the IMF is pushing.
The government and the deeply entrenched opposition appear unwilling to come to the negotiating table to engrave political discourse to patch up their differences and develop consensus on national issues.
Elections for the chairman of the senate and his deputy is scheduled for later this month. With the opposition having a majority in the senate and if they manage to get their candidate elected to chairman of the senate by secret ballot, then the polarization is likely to worsen.
The opposition has also signaled their plans to turn Punjab – the country’s most politically important province – into the next battleground meaning more political drama will be played out in the coming months.
In addition, the PDM opposition alliance has announced a “long journey” to Islamabad on March 26 which could be turned into a sit-in.
And it is not only the deepening tensions between the government and the opposition that are worrying, but now there are also signs of gaps between the government and other state institutions.
The prime minister has delivered a harsh speech to the country targeting the election commission for “failure” to prevent corrupt practices in senate elections. The speech drew a strong rebuke from the election commission urging the government to stop doing this.
All of this suggests that a major political storm is gathering pace and will get worse if all stakeholders don’t step back and let the constitution and law take its course.
One can only hope that common sense prevails on all sides and that they try to calm the situation down.
But if they failed, only ordinary people would be hit the hardest by this confrontation as it had in the past.
Pakistan has consistently witnessed such crises throughout its history and it is high time for the ruling elite to stop these endless bickering and let the constitution and law rule.
Pakistani leaders must learn a lesson from their Bangladeshi counterparts who after decades of confrontation have finally learned to live under a constitutional and democratic arrangement that has minimized the possibility of political instability and paved the way for the economic advancement of a country that is all ready to join a league of developed nations. in the decades to come if it stays on track today.
The author is a senior journalist based in Islamabad
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