The advent of 2018 has witnessed a dramatic twist in the national political scenario as the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) lost Balochistan – apparently for good – with the ouster of its provincial government in the wake of a revolt in the ranks of its party and coalition legislators.
Balochistan has had a history of governance with weak coalition governments due to split mandates in general elections and obviously the next assembly is also expected to be a divided one following the coming elections.
Generally, people are uncertain about the possibility of holding of elections in 2018, but the political parties have already embarked on their campaigns by making contacts with electable individuals. However, the current political change, only a few months before the next ballot, may have deep repercussions.
Nawab Sanaullah Zahri, who was considered to be a powerful chief executive, had to tender his resignation after losing the majority in the House. The revolt in the party is being seen as a definite setback to leadership and one can predict that PML-N may hardly bag a couple of provincial seats in the next general elections and none in the Upper House, if Senate elections are held in March.
Zahri had replaced Dr. Abdul Malik Baloch after his half tenure of two-and-a-half years under the 2013 tripartite Marri agreement among PML-N, Pashtunkhawa Milli Awami Party (PkMAP) and National Party (NP). Despite being the sole majority party with 22 members in the 65-legislator House, PML-N leader Mian Nawaz Sharif had invited NP’s Dr. Malik Baloch to lead the first phase of the coalition government, which he completed successfully passing on the mantle to Zahri.
The majority members of his own party, and all five MPAs of PML-Q, had revolted against Sanaullah Zahri leaving him at the mercy of his nationalist coalition partners – PkMAP (14) and NP(10). Fourteen members from PML-N, PML-Q, JUI-F and Balochistan National Party-Mengal had then moved a no-trust motion against the provincial chief executive.
Insiders say that Zahri was depending on his party leadership for neutralising JUI-F (8 MPAs), but Maulana Fazlur Rahman reportedly made his help conditional to a change in the government stance on the FATA merger in KP and a role for his party in the future caretaker government, both in the Centre and in Balochistan.
On that fateful day, Zahri tried continuously for two hours to contact his leader Nawaz Sharif but failed and in frustration tendered his resignation. When finally the party leader responded to his embattled chief minister’s calls it was too late, the coalition partners say.
Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, who was sent by the party leadership to rescue Zahri, stayed for a day in the provincial capital but had to leave disappointed. Despite repeated requests, no one from the dissidents or opposition parties even responded to his requests to meet.
Both PkMAP and NP were against the CM’s resignation and thought they had enough strength to defeat the no-trust motion. Apparently, Zahri had the support of 30 members – PML-N (6), PkMAP (14) and NP (10) – but some of these members, even of both nationalist parties, were not deemed reliable. So, convinced that his ministry’s survival was in danger and the no-trust movers would easily vote him out, the PML-N leader silently stepped down freeing his loyal MPAs to rush to the opponents’ camp.
After the resignation, Nawab Zahri flew abroad, avoiding any embarrassing situation during the election of his political successor. The National Party, facing the devil-and-the-deep-sea situation, decided to abstain from voting by refusing to support the PkMAP nominee. However, its two MPAs – Fatah Buledi and Mujeeb-ur-Rahman Muhammad Hasani – defied the directive and voted for Bizenjo.
The election for the new leader of the House also exposed all those who had been assuring Zahri of their support till the last minute. Even the Nawaz Sharif confidant, Yaqoob Nasar, Senator and senior vice-president of PML-N, who first declared that the party would field its own candidate for the election of the leader of the House, later sent his brother Dur Muhammad (provincial minister) to the opposite camp.
Although the anti-Zahri group, led by Mir Quddus Bizenjo, tried its best to convince PkMAP to withdraw its candidate for an unopposed leader of the House, it refused. The final balloting saw two more MPAs of National Party and one of PkMAP crossing the floor to the new coalition. Manzoor Kakar, who deserted PkMAP, was inducted in the provincial cabinet and assigned the revenue portfolio.
The new coalition is the first in history that is being ruled by a 28-member minority group, while 37 members are on opposition benches.
The ruling coalition comprises 20 members of PML-N, five of PML-Q and one each of PkMAP, MWM and National Party, while the opposition comprises of 13 members of PkMAP, eight of JUI-F, two of BNP-M and one member each of BNP-A and ANP and Independent MPA Mir Tariq Magsi.
The joint group of Jamiat, BNPs, ANP and Magsi decided to extend their full support to Bizenjo while sitting on opposition benches. Their move indicates that they want to retain the position of the leader of the opposition for having a say in the formation of a caretaker setup in the near future.
Under the 18th Amendment, both government and opposition finalise the caretaker setup.
After the defection of one of its MPAs, the number of PkMAP members is now 13 against its opponent group which also stands at 13, whereas NP’s 10 members have the balancing power and most probably will vote for retaining JUI’s opposition leader Maulana Abdul Wasey. All opposition parties may join hands against PkMAP for having their share in the caretaker government and subsequently in the ensuing general elections.
PkMAP, due to its close ties with PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif, had been influencing the ruling coalition administrations of both Dr. Malik Baloch and Nawab Zahri. This had caused ill feeling among Leaguers as well as their National Party partners, who joined hands to oppose this arrangement. The Planning and Development department was entrusted to PkMAP and it diverted a big chunk of funds for its leader Mahmood Khan Achakzai’s home district of Killa Abdullah, for construction of 112 dams, ignoring the needs of the rest of the province.
Political analysts believe that Pakistan Peoples Party had been assured by MPAs of PML-N – including Quddus Bizenjo and Sarfaraz Bugti – and Q League, that they would join it a few months before the general elections. Both MPAs have had secret meetings with the PPP leadership in Karachi, which assigned Senator Qayyum Soomro the task of igniting revolt in the PML-N ranks for replacing Sanaullah Zahri with their loyalist MPA.
Soomro had been paying visits to Quetta and meeting the League MPAs for the last few months. He has been encamped in the provincial capital since the formation of the rebel group. Photographs appeared in local newspapers showing Soomro making Bizenjo sit on the chair in the CM office and offering prayers with his supporters.
Observers think that the involvement of PPP in Balochistan politics indicates that the party will lead the future ruling coalition in the province like it did after the 2008 general elections.
The Bizenjo-led ruling coalition will apparently be a weak government as he will be acting on the whims of individuals instead of working independently.
It is also generally being forecast that the chief minister may dissolve the Balochistan Assembly before the Senate elections due in March, with Sindh and KP assemblies following suit, paving the way for early general elections and, thereby, for Senate elections through new electoral colleges instead of the present ones.
However, even if the Senate elections are held through the present electoral college (Balochistan Assembly) PML-N may not be able to bag a single seat from the province.