The next five years
PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan it is. Some of it, we already know what it means. A lot of it, no one can really know. A door has been opened, but opened to what? Few would be willing to bet about much right now.
First-time PM, first-time government, a familiar experiment updated for the modern era — it’s that last part that could prove most interesting for politics and power struggles in a second decade of managed continuity.
Because, for all the naysaying and easy predictions of doom, Imran may be in a stronger position than is immediately apparent.
Forget the stuff where Imran and the ones who have made him align — if they align for the most part, there is no real problem. It’s when Imran and the ones who have made him fall out that the arrangement will be tested.
And for future strife, Imran may be better positioned than any civilian could be.
The one-two punch of pre-poll and after-polling-hours stuff that has got Imran so very close to the finish line is important. Because bringing him so very close to the finish line in a single-party form has consequences.
A single-party majority in the National Assembly is near bulletproof constitutionally. There is no obvious way to unseat a prime minister. The Balochistan intra-party route can work if you have a no-name prime minister or a big-name status-quo type. Imran is neither.
Imran doesn’t have an actual single-party majority in the National Assembly, but for all intents and purposes he does. He’s bigger than No 2 and 3 combined, and that’s as good as being locked in for the next five years.
The Sanjrani option would require the new No 2 party to also collude with the makers and breakers of politics. Impossible? Never say never in Pakistan, but surely about as close to impossible for the next term as anything in politics can be.
Ah, but then the last chap had a straight majority and look where he is now.
True enough. Maybe the greatest danger, at least directly, to prime-ministerial continuity is the court. But in the elimination of the last chap, a convergence was apparent between the court and the making-and-breaking lot.
Can the court go it alone?
Iftikhar Chaudhry came the closest to seeming to do so, but he had slayed a dictator and was a populist phenom. Some in the current lot have had a go at big-time populism, but none control the full judiciary like Chaudhry did.
You need to keep a tight lid on your own lot before you get into PM-slaying mode.
Maybe if Imran independently gets himself in trouble, the court could step in and deliver a knock-out punch. But where would that trouble come from?
The flip side of this silliness over possible anti-rigging agitation is what should keep Imran secure and locked in.
Having conditioned everyone to accept Imran as the likely No 1 party, the next step has been almost deliciously clever. Who’s really going to get worked up over a couple of dozen or so seats when those seats guarantee a clear, though maybe not clean, mandate?
The alternative is a lot of blood, sweat and tears to achieve a hung parliament that does no real good for anyone on the other side. Messier could delay Imran’s plans, but messier could also bring the whole damn thing crashing down on everyone’s heads.
Ah, but the last dharna was a year into the last term and, if the need arises, surely some kind of opposition to Imran can be cobbled together. It’s also not hard to create temporary lynchpins, like the dharna-maker from abroad or the Faizabad monster.
But all of that works if there’s a plausible alternative available.
The removal of the last chap had left many hungry for a bite at the prime-ministerial apple: Imran, Shahbaz, Zardari, a Sanjrani type.
But this week has left Zardari or a Zardari nominee further away from the ultimate prize. The recovery in PPP votes outside Sindh is too marginal to help Zardari’s PPP break into the two-party big-boy club.
Shahbaz has flopped and worse, with his brother in jail, Shahbaz can’t legitimately go after the biggest prize of all. The Sanjrani option has imploded.
There is, of course, a father-daughter duo sitting in jail. But for them to get at Imran, they’ll need to get past the makers-and-breakers first. Maybe Imran will commit a sin grievous enough to nudge the making-and-breaking lot into seeking a truce with the father-daughter duo.
But who would you bet the father and daughter despise more: Imran or …?
So the good news for the Khanistas and the PTI is that Imran may be more secure than he already looks. And maybe, just maybe, desperately maybe, for the few democratically minded lot left, Khan’s security of tenure could be a good thing too.
’Cause if it does come down to a fight, you’ll always want a civilian to win.
Good luck, Prime Minister Khan. May he use the security of tenure well. And if he doesn’t and they come after him, may he fight like a demon. In the long run, there is no other choice.
Onwards, to a second decade of managed continuity.