LAHORE - Only a day after their failure to block the passage of what the PML-N had called anti-people, anti-industry and anti-trade 2019-20 budget, party president Shehbaz Sharif has come up with a new demand – midterm polls.

He said while talking to reporters in Islamabad on Saturday that instead of going for a no-confidence motion against the prime minister the opposition is now for midterm polls.

Mr Naeemul Haq, special assistant to the prime minister, immediately rejected the demand, as a result of which stage is now set for a new round of confrontation between the government and the opposition. As a first step, the opposition parties will launch mass contact campaign across the country after which other tactics would be used to mount pressure on the government to give in.

The budget was passed by a majority of 176 votes of the ruling coalition against 146 of the opposition parties. This clearly shows the numerical superiority of the government over its opponents. In such a situation there is little justification for the midterm polls demand. And still if the opposition parties insist on premature elections, the consequences can be unpredictable.

Also, the demand for premature polls – which essentially means premature dissolution of the National Assembly – is against the very spirit of the constitutional struggle made by the PML-N in the past. And the new demand is tantamount to urging the prime minister to do what it was fiercely opposing when the president was doing it.

The following would

explain the point:

In 1985, then president Ziaul Haq got approved the 8th constitutional amendment from the Majlis-i-Shoora which gave him the power to dissolve the assembly in certain situations. This clause was called 58(2)(b). This was like a dangling sword on the prime minister. Mian Nawaz Sharif was among the ardent supporters of the military ruler and all his acts.

The power was used against then prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo in 1988, and, after the death of Gen Zia in a plane crash the same year, by Ghulam Ishaq Khan against Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 1990 and 1993, respectively.

President Farooq Leghari used this power against the Benazir government in 1996. The exercise of this power had led to three ‘midterm’ polls.

When Nawaz Sharif returned to power as a result of such elections in 1997, he got 13th amendment approved - which took back this “fatal weapon” from the president’s quiver. Rafiq Tarar was the first president without this power.

However, the situation changed after the overthrow of the Nawaz Sharif government by Gen Pervez Musharraf in October 1999.

After staying in power for three years with the sanction of the Supreme Court, the general got 17th amendment approved from then assembly in 2003, which restored the president’s power to dismiss the assembly, subject to the Supreme Court’s approval. This was a new turn in the fight between the military ruler and the PML-N leadership.

In April 2010, the PPP government, with the support of other parties, got approved the 18th amendment which again deprived the president of the power to dissolve the legislature.

The description of these events manifests that the PML-N has always been opposed to the president’s power to dismiss the assembly - which makes fresh elections unavoidable.

This being so, Mr Shehbaz Sharif’s call for midterm polls means he wants the prime minister to do what it was opposed to the president doing in the past.

Midterm polls are not forbidden in the democratic process. But they are held when the sitting prime minister thinks that he has the highest popularity graph and will win the fresh elections easily. He takes such a decision keeping in mind the political situation in the country.

The late ZA Bhutto had held premature elections in March 1977 and won with a big margin. The opposition parties rejected the results and formed an alliance that launched a movement against the rigged elections. What happened subsequently is history.

As stated above, the rest of the premature elections were held because the president had dismissed the prime ministers using his constitutional powers.

At present, all powers are with Prime Minister Khan. It will be hard for the opposition to bring him under pressure to hold premature elections.