Tragicomedy By Shahzad Chaudhry November 10, 2019 Maulana Fazlur Rehman. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so grievously consequential. Maulana Fazlur Rehman seeks Imran Khan’s resignation while sitting in on an Islamabad road. The few thousands left with him from the earlier almost 30,000 – though he promises some reinforcements – are all his party men, including the baton-armed Ansar Ul Islam. It may harm democracy to define the accompanying party-men further (pun) but most are not there of their own volition. In a cult, you do as you are told. Even the most informed and educated in politics behave like a cult in Pakistan. That is the nature of it. Maulana’s men shout slogans as directed and not because they are invested in it or even know what it entails. Next, he seeks dissolution of assemblies, provincial and national, and early elections. He fails to state who he is addressing his demands to. To Imran Khan, to resign and dissolve the assemblies? Why would IK oblige? He is the elected Prime Minister by a nation-wide majority for the last 14 months that the assemblies and he have been in power. Good or bad – it is a sorry mix, undoubtedly – he governs on with almost four more years to go. Why would he give it all up? Because the Maulana wants it? The Constitution defines ways of replacing a prime minister and that doesn’t include sit-ins on Islamabad’s roads. Next, the provinces under different political dispositions again have defined ways of dissolution. The chief minister of a province must recommend the dissolution to the governor who is bound to heed his advice. Since only two of the four provinces are under IK’s party’s control, he could at best dissolve the national and two provincial assemblies. The other two, including one in PPP’s Sindh, are likely to have their own mind and not oblige. Till this happens, full parliamentary elections may not be feasible. The Constitution doesn’t detail the way out of such a political half-state. Again, why would IK listen to a few thousand men on the roads shouting for elections to be held again? The JUI-F’s weight in the Parliament is about five seats in the National Assembly, significant in the Balochistan Assembly, and a smattering elsewhere. That isn’t big enough to even cause a stir. To think dominoes may fall is a bit of a stretch. However, the nine political parties that the Maulana claims are in his camp and as much want IK to go and a new election held include the PPP and the PML-N, major players in the Parliament and on the political scene (some would say even bigger than IK’s PTI in political terms). To break IK’s obduracy on quitting, the simplest and easiest way out is for each of these two major parties to resign from their national and provincial seats and forced dissolution. An en masse resignation of such numbers at both the national and provincial level including others accompanying the Maulana will mean that the National Assembly and the Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan assemblies will cease to exist. K-P will be forced to follow and a new election will become a fait accompli. Why haven’t they? Why don’t they fall back on the constitutional method of bringing a government down and forcing a new election? The fact that such resort to re-election just a year down a government’s tenure will set a precedent which each of these major parties is unlikely to be excited about. Any party which fails to find its own government can call an election void. That’s untenable for any political system. Two, the PPP, has a government of its own in Sindh where a lot of resources — time, money and effort — have gone in winning an election only a year back. To repeat the same exercise with a similar cost and effort just because someone in some part of the country thinks that it has been denied its rightful share in the parliamentary seats is rather flimsy for it to give up what it already holds as a position of power and influence in national politics. The PPP is right in basing its position on democratic principles to keep away from politics of agitation seeped in bigotry and religious sentiment. It also rightly considers the closing of cities, especially the capital, as a negative expression of the democratic right to agitation. To it, short-circuiting democracy or its processes is counterproductive to the larger democratic purpose. The PPP thus is on the right side of history even as it preserves its base in Sindh by qualifying its support in Maulana’s pursuits. The PML-N has other issues. The PTI is a minority government in Punjab where the PML-N outnumbers all other parties in the number of seats. Yet the reverberations it is suffering from within restraining it from any inventiveness with unknown implications and consequences. They have gone along with the Maulana only reluctantly. This has a lot to do with the status of the legal cases and challenges the party leadership is facing in NAB and the courts. Also, the matter of transition to the new leadership weighs heavy on the party’s mind. While Maryam Nawaz is the obvious and preferred heir-apparent, the current leadership rests with Shehbaz Sharif. The PML-N will be wary of giving this arrangement permanence. With Maryam serving a conviction away from politics, any new election will mean Shehbaz Sharif will only reinforce his position as the party head, especially if he can conjure a nation-wide victory. That will weaken Maryam’s prospects of replacing him. It may thus rather wait than hurry into another election till Maryam can be back in the political fray as the next natural leader. Early elections don’t suit the PML-N; hence the reservations of a different nature. Its support of Maulana is strictly qualified. With these two major protagonists out the Maulana seems to have lost steam. He is visibly sullen and the swagger of his day one at the sit-in is gone. He is more contemplative as he encourages people to stick with him. He himself claims that he has now entered a closed alley. What he seemed to have regained with his bold march has slowly slipped away as options narrow down. This is bad politics – closing options – and a poor wager. One should know when to quit, even in politics – always on a high. The Maulana has let that moment slip away as he became a captive of his moment in the sun and false bravado forcing bad choices. And who is he addressing his complaints to force IK to resign and institute new elections? To the same non-democratic establishment he calls out every evening for standing behind IK and supporting the government? What irony. It is time to think beyond one’s self and above petty purpose. It is time to rediscover maturity and restore some credibility to politics and politicians at large. Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2019.