The lumping together of all issues in one amendment is not an advisable strategy. The PPP needs to get over the fear of losing power to non-democratic forces and act in a confident and determined manner
President Pervez Musharraf’s brazen efforts to hold on to power for his second five-year term have made him the most controversial, and perhaps most despised, leader.
However, it seems unlikely that he would resign at a time when the political forces are more divided than they were when the demand for his resignation was first made (in the immediate aftermath of the elections).
Musharraf has never given much weight to political forces in his decisions. He is not expected to step down until he is confronted with force by the politicians and he and his close associates become convinced that his position has become untenable.
There is another possible scenario: that of his former colleagues in uniform advising him to step down. While political leaders will be happy if the army top brass gave marching orders to Musharraf, such a development would underline the continued clout of the army top brass in the political system and the incapacity of the political leaders to effectively manage political affairs themselves.
It will also expose their indecisiveness on this issue and their failure to adopt concrete steps to back up their claims.
Also, Musharraf’s exit will definitely reduce polarisation in the political system but it will not in any way resolve the growing dissension among, and the inability of the major political parties to work together on addressing the problems that afflict Pakistan.
The lawyers community plans to re-launch their protests on June 10 for the restoration of the ousted judges of the superior judiciary. When they initially launched their protest last year the target was President Pervez Musharraf. Now, the main target will be the PPP government that is dragging its feet on this issue.
The PMLN and several other political parties are expected to support the lawyers, making the PPP look like the villain in the political landscape.
The PPP on the other hand, has its own set of problems. The party suffered a major setback with the demise of Benazir Bhutto. Her unfortunate exit from the political scene created a leadership crisis in the part. It was an uphill triangular task for Asif Ali Zardari to cope with the personal loss, carve out a role in the shadow of Benazir Bhutto and devise party policies in the wake of domestic and foreign pressures.
Whereas a new leadership equation is shaping up in the PPP, the government and the party are being managed as a collective enterprise with Zardari exercising disproportionate clout. Decision-making is slow and at times borders on mismanagement.
The PPP took an unnecessarily long time, for example, to nominate the prime minister, keeping most people guessing for some weeks. There was also the postponement of the by-elections on the secret initiative of the advisor on interior affairs. Similarly, the PPP leadership changed its position on the restoration of the judges and insisted on its perspective even at the cost of losing the support of the PMLN.
Now, the PPP leadership has formulated a 62-point draft of the constitutional amendment without consulting other democratic parties. Even the PMLN was not made privy to its text when Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari held their first meeting after the withdrawal of PMLN ministers from the federal cabinet.
The confidentiality of the amendment may be part of the PPP’s political style but it makes no sense because the PPP does not have enough numbers in Parliament to get it passed. If the cooperation of other parties is needed, its provisions must be discussed with them before the amendment is formally presented.
This state of affairs reflects the dilemma of the party system in Pakistan. Political parties lack the experience of working together on a shared agenda and often find it difficult to engage in joint formulation and management of policy.
It was not surprising that Nawaz Sharif decided to quit the coalition government in order to show that he would not compromise on basic issues. Zardari’s attitude was not very different either. He did not mind the PMLN leaving the coalition, but would not change his perspective as the leader of the major political party.
If democracy is to stabilise in Pakistan, its leaders will have to learn that ideological or ego-based approaches undermine the prospects of compromise and accommodation. Given Pakistan’s current political situation no single party can command the political scene. Pakistan has entered the era of coalition politics and major political parties should learn the ethos of coalition governance.
The political leaders will have to contend with another new development in Pakistani politics. A number of new players are questioning the exclusive claim of the political parties on the political domain. These include the electronic and print media, the lawyers, other civic-minded groups, non-governmental organisations and professional groups.
Some of these groups played important role in the mass movements of 1968-69 and 1977 as well as in the MRD movements of 1983 and 1986 but these functioned as subsidiaries to the political parties.
Now, the media has shaped up as an autonomous entity. The lawyers have given the lead to societal groups to assume an autonomous role on socio-political and constitutional issues. Very soon labour and students unions, repressed by military regimes so far, will resurface in the political domain.
Political leaders cannot ignore the demands of the lawyers and other societal groups on the plea that they better understand how to handle political and constitutional issues. However, societal groups, especially the lawyers, need to recognise that they cannot replace the political parties that are addressing a more comprehensive agenda and audience.
Both are integral to the political process and the lawyers need not act in a manner that threatens the post-election political arrangements. Political paralysis or collapse will not facilitate the lawyers’ demands.
The PPP needs to separate the restoration of the judges and the removal of Musharraf from other constitutional issues. If Musharraf does not resign in a week, the PPP should consult other political parties and summon a joint session of Parliament to impeach him.
The same joint session as well as the National Assembly should pass identical resolutions for the restoration of the judges, who should then be restored through an executive order. If the PPP insists on a constitutional amendment for the restoration of the judges, this amendment should be taken up separately and exclusively.
The lumping together of all issues in one amendment is not an advisable strategy. The PPP needs to get over the fear of losing power to non-democratic forces and act in a confident and determined manner to address these issues.
Unless they do that they will not be able to deal with the economic issues that threaten the fabric of the political system. And it is important for them to ask how they can possibly stay in power if the economy melts down.
Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst
Source: Daily Times, 1/6/2008