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
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
The PML-Q, supposedly in tatters after its dismal showing in the elections, now holds the balance of power in
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.