Tuesday, August 19, 2014

PTI’s DESPERATE GAMBLE- WHEN "LONG MARCH" TURNS INTO "WRONG MARCH"

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI) ‘Independence March’ began with a call for the government to resign. It ends with the PTI saying it will resign instead from the National Assembly (NA) and all provincial assemblies except Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), though both decisions are still under debate. Flanked by a worried looking KP Chief Minister (CM) who undoubtedly sees a hard won election victory going down the drain, Imran Khan made the announcement in Islamabad yesterday and said he and his supporters will enter the Red Zone where sensitive government installations are located, despite having given written assurances to the authorities that he would not do so. What this desperate measure is meant to achieve appears to be nothing more than saving Imran the embarrassment of having to back down and admit his march failed to gather the critical mass of people necessary to appear as a legitimate popular movement.

If the PTI does resign the government will have to hold by-elections, where the PTI will probably lose seats if it contests. This could lead to dissent within the party if legislators have to reinvest in campaigning so soon after victory because of their leader’s short-sighted electoral politics. In KP, despite forming the government, the PTI does not have a majority of seats, meaning that if it resigns, unless the CM dissolves the assembly there is a precedent for a minority government that could reign in the interim until by-elections fill the remaining seats. The announcement follows Imran Khan’s garbled call for ‘civil disobedience’ on Sunday, which consists of his supporters refusing to pay bills and taxes. This should not inconvenience the government since it can cut electricity to defaulters, confiscate assets, and punish tax evaders under the relevant laws. It is also difficult to imagine several thousand charged party workers facing off against several thousand policemen in Islamabad’s most sensitive area, the Red Zone, without violence, in spite of his declaration. Since Imran has descended into delusion, the government must ensure restraint in what is a potentially combustible environment.

The government put Islamabad on red alert following the announcement, and the worry is that if ‘civil disobedience’ or marching on the Red Zone leads to clashes, bloodshed and arrests, the country could descend into further anarchy. With terrorism rampant, security is a prime concern and the government has a legitimate worry about letting thousands of people into the country’s nerve-centre. Moreover, a march into the Red Zone achieves nothing aside from a symbolic partial victory. Is it worth losing a strong presence in the NA and the provincial Assemblies? From the perspective of electoral politics, no it is not.

From a populist perspective, Imran is playing the only card he has left. This is not the stuff of revolutions; even the Kiev ‘Maidan’, a similar putsch to Imran’s attempt, had as many as 150,000 people in a country with a much smaller population. This should tell Imran two things; first, his popularity is not as widespread and unflinching as he assumed, which casts doubt on his claim that the 2013 elections were rigged. Second, his protest caused a great deal of uncertainty and upset for ordinary citizens who want nothing more than a few years of stability in which to reorder their lives. It has made him deeply unpopular with many of his former supporters. If anything, it may have strengthened the government, which now has every major political party on its side and appears relatively sane by comparison, its past sins of omission and commission notwithstanding. It repeatedly offered Imran a way out and is still doing so, setting up multi-party committees to negotiate with the PTI and PAT.
Iman Khan now has three options: he can turn to violence, he can negotiate, or his party can resign and fade into obscurity. Nawaz Sharif has given no indication he will resign, and Imran’s best hope of leaving this debacle behind is to accept the government’s peace offering and push his remaining demands at the negotiating table. If his party follows through with the threat to resign, he will be the only loser.  

Courtesy Daily Times

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