The PPP has tried to confront the challenges facing Pakistan. It should be given credit for announcing the budget in a timely manner, and for at least attempting to manage the food crisis, the unprecedented increase in fuel prices and ballooning fiscal deficit
It has been just over a hundred days since the coalition government assumed power after the February elections. At the time, optimism surrounded the ushering in of the newly formed government.
First, the election had resulted in a crushing defeat for the pro-Musharraf PMLQ and was a clear indication of the growing disillusionment of the people with the military-led government.
Second, it was a resounding victory for the two mainstream political parties: the PPP that rode to power partially due to a post-Bhutto assassination sympathy wave, and the PMLN that unexpectedly carried Punjab by supporting the lawyers’ movement and taking an anti-establishment stance.
This sense of optimism was furthered by the signing of the Murree declaration, making the unlikely coalition of the PPP and the PMLN a possibility. This was not only a sign of political maturity on the part of Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari but also a step forward in the realisation that the two parties had to collaborate to ensure the ouster of the military from politics.
Despite all these reasons for hope, the memory of the attempts at democratic government during the 1990s led many a nay-sayer to conclude that the coalition would fall apart; that Musharraf would dissolve the government using 58(2)b; or that the economic challenges confronting the government were too huge for the delicate coalitional arrangement to withstand.
A hundred days, one long march, an extensive constitutional package, a national budget, efforts at counter-terrorism and several broken promises later, the PPP government in coalition with the PMLN, the MQM and the ANP is still standing and trying to get a grip on the political reality of Pakistan.
Let’s consider the achievements and failures of the last three months.
It is a major achievement that the coalition has weathered the storm thus far. One reason for this is the realisation by all the political leaders that politics in Pakistan is no longer a zero-sum game between choosing to side with the military or being in power. Political parties realise that in order to retain power with legitimacy, the parliament needs to be a sovereign institution and one of the ways to do that is to foster a culture of accepting the result of the elections and by not undercutting each other by allying with the military establishment.
Of course, this has also been dependent on the attitude of the army leadership towards the parties as well. The PPP has thus far steered a course of appeasement and reconciliation with the MQM and the ANP. This is interesting because it shows how the PPP — a party that claims to have national outreach is extremely conscious that it cannot afford to alienate the two regional parties.
Joining hands with the MQM in Sindh was viewed critically; a reconciliation was certainly the need of the day if political stability in Sindh was the priority in the province. Ceding to the Sindhi demand to do away with the Kalabagh Dam was welcomed in Sindh but also showed how the PPP is desperately trying to regain its foothold in Sindh as a party that is in tune with the needs of the Sindhi people. The rising significance of the Pashtun population, settled at key exit and entry points to the city of Karachi, also necessitates taking the ANP along. Agreeing with the ANP’s demand to rename NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa was a small but very meaningful concession to make.
Relations with the PMLN have been rockier, as the bone of contention has been on the restoration of the judges. After numerous dialogues in Dubai and elsewhere in Pakistan among the leadership, the parties have still not taken any steps to lay the issue to rest once and for all.
It is clear to the PPP that it needs to rebuild its organisation in Punjab if it wants to be electorally competitive in the province. In the meantime, the PMLN has played its cards very well. It has made substantial gains by siding with the lawyers’ movement and retaining its anti-establishment stance. Withdrawing from the ministerial positions, the PMLN further consolidated itself as a party determined to take a principled stance.
Furthermore, despite the Lahore High Court’s decision to disqualify Nawaz Sharif from the by-elections, it is interesting to note that the PMLN’s political calculus for the time being is to consolidate its presence in Punjab and be part of the government without having to take the blame for any of the shortcomings.
The PPP has tried to confront the challenges facing Pakistan. It should be given credit for announcing the budget in a timely manner, and for at least attempting to manage the food crisis, the unprecedented increase in fuel prices and ballooning fiscal deficit. Yet the budget with its emphasis on short-term priorities is not expanding the revenue base significantly and is bound to fail to meet economic targets unless there is close institutional monitoring of implementation.
The same cannot be said about the way the PPP has handled the restoration of the judges. The delay in reaching an agreement with the PMLN on this issue represents a huge collective action problem and the non-optimality of a coalition between parties who are stuck on modalities, which are fast becoming trivial. Whether the judges could have or should have been restored through an executive order, a parliamentary decision or a constitutional package was immaterial, so long as the issue was resolved and the independence of the judiciary restored.
The constitutional package, with its 70 proposed amendments is posing to be a document fulfilling all the promises that were made in the 2006 Charter of Democracy; amending general laws that ail the politics of the country, amending laws relating to the judiciary and validating the post-November 3 acts of the Musharraf government.
First, the text is worded ambiguously and ignores once again the modalities. It also hints at huge disagreements surrounding the issue of the judges.
Second, it has been drafted only by the PPP, which is sad because it would have been encouraging to see that constitutional reform is a matter all the coalition partners are involved in. For that matter, shouldn’t legislative reform be carried out in the parliament, an act the citizens hold their elected representatives accountable for.
Third, it is an ambitious document that could have achieved its objectives in a piece-meal way. It is being treated almost as the game plan for the PPP for the next 5 years. Isn’t that what the manifesto is for?
While I have primarily focused on domestic political issues revolving around intra and inter-party relations, the next few weeks will be crucial in terms of how the government deals with counter-terrorism in the NWFP and tribal areas.
Mariam Mufti is currently working on her doctoral dissertation on the party system of Pakistan at the Johns Hopkins University
Source: Daily Times, 7/7/2008