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As the government remains recoiled into a defensive posture, it appears to have grudgingly waived the white flag on the matter of resignations of the PTI lawmakers — offering another glimpse into the deepening peril it confronts.

Political experts say the move to hit the panic button in the face of threats has yet again laid bare the government’s own awareness of the grim contours of the power struggle with the PTI as it takes a bite of the reality sandwich. The driving force of fear, they reckon, continues to inform its steps.

Just as PTI Chairman Imran Khan hinted at returning to the National Assembly, NA Speaker Raja Pervez Ashraf slammed the door of the assembly shut on 34 more PTI members by going against the rationale he himself parroted in the past few months that every member of the PTI will have to personally confirm his resignation.

“…unless the speaker is satisfied that a member has submitted his resignation voluntarily without any pressure, it is no rationale for the speaker to accept the resignations,” Ashraf boasted in a statement issued on December 29, 2022, after his meeting with a delegation of PTI lawmakers who visited him for discussing a way to accept the resignation of all PTI lawmakers.

However, months after selectively accepting the resignations of only 11 PTI MNAs, he has now axed another 35 members by accepting their resignations apparently without fulfilling the criteria that he has been repeating for months.
However, the end result would be the same: there will be by-elections on all seats – a total of 33 – where the PTI chairman would once again be the sole candidate against the coalition government’s candidates.

‘Govt not confident about numbers’

In the cat-and-mouse game, PTI is forcing snap polls and the government is busy deflecting the same. Meanwhile, millions of rupees would be spent on by-elections once again and simply go to waste because Imran would abandon all seats but one and thus there will be elections on seats falling vacant again.

“It appears to be a reaction to Imran Khan’s statement about returning to the National Assembly,” the president of the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) Ahmed Bilal Mehboob said, saying Imran had threatened to give PM Shehbaz tough time, especially, if PTI returns to assembly and things move towards a vote of no-confidence.

However, the PILDAT chief said, accepting 35 resignations won’t make a huge difference and the government side will have to accept more resignations because if the remaining PTI lawmakers come to the assembly then they can choose a leader of the opposition other than the incumbent opposition leader, Raja Riaz.

Thus, he said, the government will have to decide about the caretaker setup with the opposition leader of the PTI’s choice and not Riaz, who is a disgruntled member of the PTI. “The accepting of resignations shows the government’s weakness,” Mehboob said, “it also shows that the government isn’t fully confident about its numbers in the assembly.”

Besides, Mehboob pointed out that the speaker has accepted the resignations of the most vocal members of PTI so that there isn’t any senior leader available in the house to lead the party if PTI decides to come back to the assembly.

Though the rules allow the speaker to accept resignations after verifying the genuineness and seeing that the resignations were given voluntarily, Mehboob said, there seems to be no method to the madness in first accepting the resignations of only 11 PTI lawmakers followed by 35 more. “The question is why only these 35 and why not others,” he questioned.

After the members have been de-notified, the expert said, there will be by-elections on the seats falling vacant as general elections are held on the vacant seats only if less than 120 days are left in the expiry of the assembly. He felt that the speaker might accept more resignations in the coming weeks so that more by-elections could be held on the vacant seats.

“Accepting of resignations indicates fear on part of the government,” renowned political expert Zaigham Khan said, “the government doesn’t seem to have any plan as fear had brought them to power and it is still the driving emotion of the government.”

The expert suggested that the government should take chances and call elections, saying they need to show some courage instead of weirdly behaving for months now. “What sense does it make to accept the resignation of only 35 lawmakers,” he questioned.

Legally, Zaigham said, the PTI lawmakers can challenge the speaker’s decision and chances are that the courts would reverse the decision provided PTI lawmakers say that they haven’t given resignations or their resignations weren’t verified. The assembly rules state that a resignation must be handwritten, the expert said, saying on this ground alone the decision could be reversed.

However, Zaigham said, if PTI really wanted to force the speaker to accept resignations then its lawmakers would have submitted handwritten resignations and appeared before the speaker for verification by now. PTI lawmakers had resigned in April 2022 and since then the matter is pending before the speaker.

“Imran Khan is smelling blood; the PML-N-led government is in trouble because of the economic crisis in the absence of IMF program and Imran is becoming ruthless with each passing day,” Zaigham said, “Imran has upped the ante, especially, after seeing that dissolution of the assemblies didn’t work.”

On the other hand, Zaigham said, the government wants to create a situation where it can blame the caretaker government just like the PTI government put the entire blame on the incumbent government after being ousted last April.

“Ruthless and shameless politics is bad for Pakistan,” he concluded, saying the government has already burnt its political capital and it is not ready to take any “tough decision” when the elections are just months away. Every matter is linked with the economy now, he said, and if the government doesn’t agree with IMF’s terms and conditions then the default is just two-to-three months away.

The information minister was not available for comments.

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