Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thoughts on the Nawaz-Zardari Saga

Reasonable people can disagree over the legality of the Supreme Court’s decision to declare Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif ineligible to stand for election. As it happens, I am far more interested in the political fall-out of this decision. I must confess that I have no clue what is going to happen next. At best, I can lay out certain scenarios. The fickle loyalties of Pakistani politicians will determine which of these scenarios plays out. The only thing I can say with certainty is this: the status-quo, with the PPP-led coalition governing from the centre and a PML-N government sans Shahbaz in the Punjab, cannot last another four years.

Firstly, Nawaz has been praised in certain quarters for his refusal to bend his principles. This is a debatable proposition, but there is no denying that his intransigence has left him without any major allies. His two most vociferous supporters, the Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf, boycotted last year’s elections and are bereft of any meaningful political power. The JI’s ability to gather crowds (an exaggerated ability but one that does exist) is nothing compared to the seats the now-defunct MMA had in the previous National Assembly. The PML-N’s refusal to meet with Chaudhry Shujaat and create an opening for a PPP-PMLQ alliance was also a costly mistake and one that the party may be regretting.

The PML-Q, supposedly in tatters after its dismal showing in the elections, now holds the balance of power in Pakistan. They have two options: to join hands with the PML-N to bring down the PPP in the centre or ally itself with the PPP to pass a no-confidence motion against the Punjab government. If it chooses the latter, I suspect the PML-Q will demand the chief ministership in return for its votes. Prepare yourselves for the return of CM Pervez Elahi, or even more horrifying, CM Moonis Elahi. The PML-Q has the third option of doing nothing, but I see no reason, besides stupidity, for it not to take advantage of its relative importance. Congratulations Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif. Your inability to look beyond your narrow interests has revitalized a moribund party.

If there is one true villain in this saga, I would like to nominate Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. He could have defused the situation to some extent by reconvening the Punjab Assembly and allowing the PML-N to vote for a new chief minister. Instead he decided to impose Governor’s rule for two months. And when the PML-N MPAs attempted to meet at the Assembly, he forcibly kept them out, forcing them to gather under a staircase in the building, thereby allowing the PML-N to move to an even higher moral ground.

Will the army, surely looking on in delight as this drama plays out, ultimately decide who the victor is? Its hard to find out what the army is thinking right now but its intentions should become clear pretty soon. Another wild-card is Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani. Recent reports suggest that he is disgruntled about playing second-fiddle to President Zardari. Even de-facto Interior Minister Rehman Malik and Communications Minister Sherry Rehman seem to outrank him. Gillani has also made some sympathetic noises towards the PML-N. Will he have the courage to oppose Zardari and come out in favour of the PML-N.

Either way, everything will have to sort itself out within a month. One-third of the current senators will be replaced in March and the PML-Q will lose many seats to the PPP, making it harder to pass a no-confidence motion against the sitting government.


Anonymous said...

Zardari is the devil !!!

AKS said...

Rather predictable this whole farce.

What surprises me the most is to actually witness how the second largest party, whose leader has been twice elected as PM, courts no support whatsoever in three provinces of the country. This of course also highlights how powerful Punjab really is.

In Karachi, people are just looking at the situation with amusement. I reckon most consider PML(N) to be filled with a bunch of idiots who were played with by Zardari. The only protests were by lawyers at the City Courts and by about 30 people (okay maybe a few more) protesting outside the Press Club. There were no rallies, no sit-ins or speeches, nothing. Interestingly, the Sindh Farmers Party (a Communist outfit) held a protest rally (agriculture reforms) on Shahrah-e-Faisal on Tuesday and I swear they had more supporters on the street than the PML(N).

Majaz said...

Your inability to look beyond your narrow interests has revitalized a moribund party.

Haha, now that's what I'm talking about!

Btw, did you hear the rumor? Sources say Zardari has gone ahead and secretly married Salman Taseer's daughter.

AKS said...

Another thing that amazes me is the ability of our politicians to shoot themselves in the foot. Bubs, as you point out, was there any need for Salman Taseer to impose Governor Rule? Couldn't the PPP have just waited a few more months so that the whole CJ thing was dead and buried? After all, they were hardly in any danger of losing power.

Can't believe Chaudhry Shujaat is back in power. Do you think that Chory Saab will become Chairman Senate?

God, I love this country. There maybe nothing to do in your free time but at least our politicians try to fill our lives with amusement, if not excitement. I wonder, if Pakistanis had things to do - recreational facilities, money to go to said recreational facilities - our politicians would stop being such attention seekers.

hiragoeson said...

i doubt it.
There's not much to do in Pakistan other than eat and plan simple minded, but convoluted strategies against everyone else.

The last decade of civilian rule we had played out like musical chairs between PPP and PML- N; but neither party completed their required terms, they were each ousted repeatedly, with their terms being fulfilled by interim governments (or so i remember it). If that's likely to happen again, i doubt PML-N will win any support outside Punjab.
PPP will still remain the strongest party in the country. Even with Zardari at it's helm.

And if history repeats itself, are we looking to another army dictator?

bubs said...

Hiragoeson: While the PML-N will not win any support outside the Punjab, I expect them to win more seats in the province in the next elections, and that may enough to make it the biggest party in the country. While the PPP is the only party that could claim to have national support, our politics is quite strongly divided along ethnic lines. And what better ethnicity to have supporting you than the Punjabis?

AKS: The PPP will have to offer the PML-Q something to get its support. Whether that is the chairman of the Senate or chief minister of Punjab is open to debate.

I think we can also agree that 58(2)(b) is not going anywhere in the near future.

Majaz said...

A nod to that last line, Bubs. A very sad, forlorn nod.

somethingrichandstrange said...

the pml-n's reluctance to negotiate with the pml-q due to their "principles" sounds a lot like imran khan's usual lack of political astuteness no? the pml-n seems to be picking up the bad habits of their political allies.
oh and majaz, two of taseer's daughters are married, and the youngest who i know personally is currently an undergrad in the US dating another pakistani undergrad in the US. so no, those rumors are bullshit as usual.

Anonymous said...

So what's the solution?