Daska by-elections: Even if PTI loses ‘heavens wouldn’t fall’ By Nusrat Javed

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For the past two months, a peculiar group of dream merchants has diligently been promoting the story that after completing two years in Prime Minister’s Office, Imran Khan was now “on his own.” The non-elected pillars of our state, often blamed for setting political games for this country, for the right or wrong reasons, were no more willing to help him establishing absolute control over all levers of power management by all means, fair or foul.

Ceaseless promotion of this story inspired many journalists to start looking for stories of ‘drift’ within the ruling party. Preparing for the elections of 48 seats of the Senate, to be held on March 3, 2021, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) also furnished so many stories of internal bickering, heart burning and possible expression of the dissent.

These stories also made some people to seriously believe that “after being left alone,” Imran Khan would find it extremely difficult to complete his term. Even after spending more than two decades in politics, he is still being perceived a complete ‘outsider’ to its dirty sides. He was thus not expected to smoothly sail through the storm, set to be stirred by vicious battles for capturing more and more of the Senate seats.

I never took these stories of ‘the drift,’ even for cursory consideration. The ruling party’s conduct in the National Assembly and Senate continued to transmit the message that the prime minister and his diehard loyalists hardly feel any danger. They remain firmly sold to the idea that “looters and plunderers,” crowding the opposition parties, are being left with no will and energy to resist the government; forget mounting the final assault at it.

For more than four months, for example, 150-plus members of the National Assembly representing almost all the opposition parties were even not willing to visit the Speaker’s chambers for sharing a cup of tea. With the advent of each National Assembly session, the government and opposition representatives had historically been meeting in the Speaker’s chambers to set the mode of dealing with parliamentary business.

Asad Qaisar never cared appeasing or engaging the alienated opposition. Its ‘impolite behavior’ rather provoked him to act more ‘autonomous’ and he had been running the house like a stern schoolteacher for the past three sessions. With spirited desk thumping and rude heckling, a massive crowd of ruling party legislators continues to furnish solid backup support for him.

Since Monday, a group of PTI MNAs from Karachi has been dying to reach the ‘next level’ for bullying the opposition. The arrest of Haleem Adil Sheikh, the PTI nominated leader of the opposition in the Sindh Assembly, seemed to have produced an emotional cause for them. They are using the arrest of Sheikh’s for exposing ‘fascist’ sides of the PPP-led government of Sindh.

Immediately after the question hour Monday evening, they had left their seats to reach the Speaker’s dais. They tore down the day’s agenda and chanted provocative slogans against the PPP. To prevent the certain-looking fistfights, the Speaker had to adjourn the house.

The same group again seemed adamant to display its energy at the outset of Tuesday sitting. After taking the presiding chair, however, Asad Qaisar did pass sermon kind of remarks to remind legislators that they were members of ‘an august house.’ Their behavior must match its grace and reputation. But the group of PTI MNAs from Karachi acted deaf. They again left their seats and reached close to the Speaker’s dais to wave hand written placards agitating against the arrest of Aleem Adil Sheikh.

The Speaker feigned annoyance with their conduct and threatened to adjourn the house. Meantime, the opposition also entered with placards, expressing anger over the recent wave of inflation. We were set to suffer another episode of ugly bedlam. As if to prevent the same, the Speaker adjourned the house for ‘ten minutes’. But he took more than 40 minutes for returning to his seat.

The Speaker’s calculated throwing of the tantrum clearly conveyed to the opposition that if it seriously wanted to elude physical beating by vigorous members of ruling party, he should be allowed to run the House, as per his desire while strictly sticking to the day’s agenda.

The sitting was reserved for private initiatives in legislation. Both the government and opposition savored equal time and opportunity to introduce laws, ostensibly conceived to improve things for ordinary Joe of this country.

Ms. Nafisa Khattak of the ruling party took the lead while proposing a bill, demanding appropriate training for small-scale milk producers. Explaining “silent (salient)” points of the law proposed by her, she expressed deep concern over a score of unhealthy practices. She felt worried, because people owning one or two cattle, “don’t wash their hands before milking. Utensils they use are also not clean. The milk they deliver to homes mostly smells of manure and could pose serious threat to public health.”

The Speaker felt equally concerned and worriedly suggested that the proposed law that he believed was framed to enforce healthy practices on “DIARY (dairy) business,” must be sent to the concerned committee for deep vetting. I could not afford watching more “legislative work” after this.

On my way to car park, I met three opposition legislators from different parties. They felt extremely delighted over “assertive conduct” of the Election Commission and considered it ominous for the Imran government.

The Commission had already embarrassed and frustrated the government while submitting before the Supreme Court that Article 226 of the Constitution didn’t allow ‘open’ balloting, when it comes to elect Senators.

It also took an astonishingly loud and censoring position while questioning the manner, polling had been held during bye-election of a national assembly seat from Daska, a vibrant city of Central Punjab. Nawaz Sharif has cultivated a huge and loyal vote bank there. People were thus not surprised when the results for this seat began to pour in after the evening of previous Friday. The PML-N candidate appeared winning, although with a narrow margin. PTI should have felt good and comfortable about it. After all, they seemed convincingly ‘denting” Nawaz Sharif’s vote bank.

Until fairly late Friday night results of 370 polling stations had been announced. Only twenty-three were still left for counting. But suddenly we stopped getting the latest news. This forced the PML-N to start howling with accusations of foul play. They proved somewhat justified when the final news claimed that the results from “missing-in-the-fog” polling stations had turned tables in favor of the ruling party candidate.

PML-N was not alone in crying foul. The Election Commission rather furnished solid grounds for it by issuing a statement too early on Saturday morning. Its press release clearly admitted that things definitely went wrong somewhere in the process.

The opposition leaders, I talked to, strongly felt that the Election Commission now seemed set to check PTI’s winning streak and its hold on multiple levers of power. I could but merely laugh on wishful scenarios imagined by them.

A huge brigade of PTI’s spokespersons has already begun to vigorously promote the story that much before the Election Commission, Prime Minister Imran Khan felt “extremely annoyed” over the confusion, created about the results of a bye-election in Daska, during the late night of previous Friday.

In whispers and strictly “off the record,” they have also been telling the reporters they trust that Imran Khan seriously suspected that just to please the Punjab Chief Minister, Usman Buzdar, local police and administration tried to act smart and stupidly went for “overkill.”

He wouldn’t mind, if fresh polling was held in contested polling stations and even if the PTI loses “heavens wouldn’t fall.” After all, in the election of July 2018, the PML-N had won the same seat. But it couldn’t stop his reaching the Prime Minister’s Office.