Pakistan: Election Held, But Crisis Continues
Now rulers of Pakistan unable to form the government of national consensus. The victors of Monday’s general election seemed set for crucial talks to sew up what could be a grand PPP-led governing coalition at the centre and pick the next prime minister.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari and Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) leader Nawaz Sharif, whose parties led an opposition victory despite having to fight on a perceived uneven playing field provided by a hostile regime, are due to meet in Islamabad today to discuss the shape of the combine that could also include the NWFP-based Awami National Party (ANP).
The two main parties are also likely to try to reconcile their varying stances on some tough issues such as the political future of President Pervez Musharraf, who sidelined them during more than eight years of his rule, and the restoration of about 60 superior court judges sacked under the extra-constitutional but short-lived state of emergency he imposed on Nov 3.
According to editorial of Daily Times, when hung parliaments are produced, deadlocks precede power affiliations. First a party will focus on its own strengths, which immediately leads to a deadlock. Then it is confronted with the “counter-strength” of the other party, and that immediately creates space for negotiations. In the case of the 2008 elections too, the two big parties, with enough votes to form a coalition at the centre, are deadlocked before they arrive at an understanding. The PMLN wants the deposed Supreme Court judges reinstated in order to oust President Pervez Musharraf. But the PPP looks at the judicial crisis from a different angle and has made an alternative offer to get the president to quit.
The PMLN with 66 seats so far has stiffened its stance further by declaring that it will not sit in a government that also contains the MQM or PMLQ. The emotion behind this policy is recent and related to the president; otherwise, the PMLN and the PPP have equally ruled with the help of the MQM in the past. The PPP, with the largest number of votes in the National Assembly, 87 so far, has not presented a tough negotiating position to the PMLN, but its attitude towards the judiciary in general and the deposed judges in particular is based on its historical experience. It would rather seek a constitutional solution to the crisis than postpone it indefinitely by restoring the judges.
The third party in the National Assembly, the PMLQ, has expressed its own coyness about negotiations. It says it is determined to sit in the opposition and “will not be used” by anyone. It knows it has 17 seats in the Balochistan assembly and can be comfortably lodged there if it gets support from the PPP with its 7 votes in a house of 46 seats. Its counter-strength is that it can be on its own by getting the largest chunk of seats, the independents, to support it. The PPP counter-strength is in Balochistan and it comes to the fore if it gets together with the independents and the JUI which has two seats. Talking of counter-strength, if the PMLN doesn’t play ball at the centre, the PPP knows that a nod to the president can produce a coalition comprising PPP, PMLQ and the MQM, even though that would be anathema in the eyes of Pakistan’s civil society.
The PPP can stack its cards differently in case the PMLN is not forthcoming. But the beauty of politics is that it is pragmatic and can leap over chasms of ideology and principle when cornered. The PPP has a chance to oust the PMLN from Punjab by making an alliance with the PMLQ. The PPP has 78 seats in a 285 seat Punjab assembly and the PMLQ has 66. The two can get together with 35 independents to form a government that will damage the PMLN grievously by keeping it out of power for another five years. The PMLN has still to realise the importance of ruling Punjab, the largest and the most powerful unit of the federation; when it does, it will realise at least one “counter-strength” of the PPP.
The PPP is supreme in Sindh. The level of political “engagement” was such that only one independent could win, which is a break with the rest of the country where the independents have proliferated as never before. The MQM is willing to cooperate since over the years its worldview has become dominated, not so much by the fear of the Sindhi, but by the muscle of the clergy from its own urban bailiwick. So the message from London is conciliatory. But looking at the pattern of power in the 125 seat Sindh assembly, the PPP with its 65 seats needs no partners. However, to be dominant in the cities, it would b a source of strength for the PPP to have the MQM in the tent spitting out than spitting in. Also, the National Assembly presence of the MQM is an undeniable reality.
Whether we like it or not, the fact is that President Musharraf has delivered a fairly good election at the end of the day, with over 45 percent turnout. Like General Yahya, he may not be rewarded commensurately for what he has delivered. As the political deadlocks clear up, he might still have a role to play. But for that to happen, he has to show that he has learnt his lessons, which is not assured given his past record. He has to keep a low profile and must quit if the political consensus for that develops in parliament.