May 252008

The PPP can multiply its political clout by working closely with other democratic parties and rectifying Musharraf’s unconstitutional actions. Any political arrangement with the presidency is not a viable option

The federal government plans to present a constitutional amendment package in Parliament to demonstrate its commitment to expanding the scope of democracy and undermine the planned ‘long march’ by the lawyers and others for restoration of the ousted judges.

Details of the package are not yet available at the time of writing, but some information can be tracked from the statements of the law minister and other press reports.

One gathers a clear impression that some definite proposals are on the table which offer something to every player in the current political scene, i.e. the PPP and its allies in the government; the PMLN and other political parties, lawyers and civil society groups; and President Pervez Musharraf.

The strategy of giving ‘something to everyone’ suffers from an internal contradiction and is based on the flawed assumption that any other approach to judicial and constitutional change would destabilise the situation.

The PPP leadership needs to recognise four imperatives for coping with the current political pressures.

First, the PPP’s main asset is its popular support, which cannot be sustained without working towards the resolution of the common man’s socio-economic problems. This calls for an early settlement of political and constitutional dilemmas so that the government is able to give full attention to the people’s problems.

Second, partnership with democratic political parties and societal forces is most important. It is possible to evolve a working understanding with the political parties on restoration of the judges, provided the PPP recognises the primacy of accommodation with political forces.

Third, the best security for the future of the current democratic order is the coherent and stable functioning of political governments at the federal and provincial levels. This is not possible without active cooperation between mainstream and regional political parties on a shared agenda.

Fourth, the sooner Musharraf is removed from the political scene the better, because he is the major irritant in the present arrangements and he will strike at political institutions and processes whenever he finds himself strong enough, or the whenever political forces are weak enough.

The PPP cannot sustain its popular base without turning its “roti, kapra and makan” slogan into concrete policy measures. So far it has found it difficult to control inflation and shortages of wheat flour. It has not adequately responded to skyrocketing oil prices, acute shortages of electricity and internal insecurity. Given these challenges to its capacity to fulfil its obligations towards the population, it does not make much sense for the PPP to distance itself from its allies.

The PPP’s capacity to obtain approval from Parliament for its proposed constitutional package is largely compromised after diverging from the PMLN on the judges issue and the role of Musharraf.

It has the option of seeking cooperation from pro-Musharraf parliamentarians but such support will not be available without the stipulation that the PPP offer protection to Musharraf’s second term and legitimise the constitutional changes made by him between November 3, 2007 and December 15, 2007.

This will shift the political initiative to Musharraf and undermine the PPP’s reputation as a champion of liberal, democratic politics.

Currently, the PPP leadership maintains an ambiguous approach towards three key political and constitutional issues, i.e. the restoration of deposed judges; the constitutional changes made by Musharraf; and the president’s political future.

The PPP wants to restore the judges but not the way the PMLN and the lawyers want. Similarly, they want to undo the changes made by Musharraf but they are not convinced of the need for a complete return to the pre-November 3 political and constitutional status quo.

In a recent interview, PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari described Musharraf as an obstacle between the people and democracy. However, at other times, he appeared inclined towards seeking a working arrangement with the president, provided the latter is stripped of his discretionary powers.

The PPP should adopt a clear position on its relationship with Musharraf because this holds the key to the future of the present political arrangement and establishment of civilian primacy in the politics of Pakistan. If the PPP views Musharraf as integral to its political game plan, the ousted judges, especially Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, cannot be restored without making arrangements to protect Musharraf.

Musharraf will not voluntarily step down even if the November “Emergency” is given constitutional cover. He will be on firmer political and legal ground to hold on to his office after his actions have been legitimised by Parliament. Why should he quit if the parliament indemnifies his unconstitutional moves?

The PMLN wants to get rid of Musharraf. The ANP and the MQM will also be willing to support such a move provided the PPP and the PMLN continue to respect their regional sensitivities. They will also agree to a joint policy on the restoration of the judges. The original ruling coalition, comprising the PPP, the PMLN, the ANP and the JUIF coupled with the MQM, is in a position to impeach the president because the impeachment requires two-thirds of the total seats in a joint sitting of Parliament. For a constitutional amendment, two-thirds of the total vote is needed in each house, which the PPP may find difficult to secure with its current policy of offering something to everyone in the constitutional amendment package.

Government-PPP circles are arguing that the political situation will destabilise if an attempt is made to quickly remove Musharraf and restore the judges unconditionally. There are fears that Musharraf may attempt to dissolve the National Assembly and dismiss the prime minister if there is an attempt to oust him. However, there is no guarantee that the government will not face political challenges if it keeps Musharraf in the game.

And, in any case, Musharraf will not find it easy to dissolve the National Assembly. He will need full support of the Army Chief, who will be required to bring out his troops to implement the dissolution orders by taking over the prime minister house, Parliament and other important government installations in Islamabad.

If the Army Chief agrees to become a party to Musharraf’s agenda, the military’s role as an autonomous institution will be undermined and it will, once again, face strong criticism from civil society and political circles.

Musharraf cannot successfully assault representative institutions if political parties and societal groups work in harmony. The PPP can, therefore, multiply its political clout by working closely with other democratic parties and rectifying Musharraf’s unconstitutional actions. Any political arrangement with the presidency is not a viable option.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 25/5/2008

 Posted by at 10:44 am

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