Pakistan Politics: Who will have the last laugh?

By Rana Qaisar

ISLAMABAD: The fifth session of the National Assembly started on Monday with a euphoric four-party coalition anticipating with absolute certainty to get rid of President Pervez Musharraf.

Whether he resigns or he is impeached, the coalition is not expecting anything short of Pakistan without President Musharraf with the know-all pundits predicting a change within 24 hours. Although the numbers game has tilted in favour of the coalition as 244 MNAs from the PPP (120), PML-N (91), JUI-F (three) and the ANP (13) with five independents and 11 from FATA attended the joint parliamentary party meeting chaired by the “consensus” prime minister before the NA session. If five PPP, four PML-N and three JUI-F members, who were not present in the meeting, are also included, the total number in NA comes to 256 in addition to 46 senators.

A total of 302 legislators brings the coalition in a comfortable position to impeach the president. The figure of 302 is also suggestive if taken in legal (Pakistan Penal Code) context. The reports from the Punjab also encouraged the coalition as only 25 MPAs opposed the resolution asking the federal government to tell the president to fulfil his commitment of taking vote of confidence from the National Assembly.

The reports that a major defection in PML-Q is in the offing have finally proved true. PML-Q MNA Sardar Bahadur Khan Siar had predicted a day before that over 20 pro-Musharraf MNAs would support the impeachment of their “mentor”. He was seen surrounded by the coalition members in the House to “know” exactly who would ditch the man they had once supported. Riaz Pirzada, who too at one time had spearheaded a move to form a forward bloc in the previous assembly, remained glued to the seat next to Siar throughout the Question Hour probably to make out what “worked” on his colleague who decided to finally support the “democratic” forces.

Maybe Siar has foreseen that the ship is now sinking and it’s time to jump out. Whatever, the president is keeping all his cards close to his chest. While a lot is taking place behind the scene, only two supporters of the president, and they too the women MNAs Marvi Memon and Dr Doniya Aziz, attempted to “grill” the government for “inaction” on a host of issues. But their praise for the president’s policy was ignored even by the Q-leaguers who did not bother to offer back-up support to their colleagues at a time when their “boss” needed them to pay back for the “favours” he had bestowed on them. The press gallery was packed.

The general perception was that the coalition would move a resolution, which was no where on its way to the NA, as it would be tabled after all the four assemblies pass it by Friday. However, it was expected that a warm-up session would be witnessed with “hawks” in coalition, particularly the PML-N, would, at least for the galleries, chant “go-Musharraf-go”. Will he resign or face impeachment or use 58(2b)? This was the question everyone asked in the cafeteria but no definite answer coming from anywhere.

The MNAs belonging to the coalition were, however, upbeat expecting the president to resign in a day or two. The consensus in the absence of a definite answer was that it all depended on Pakistan Army. But if the powers-that-be decide to wrap up the system, it cannot happen without the consent of the army because in present circumstances only the army can ensure implementation of 58(2b) if the president finally resorts to dissolve the assemblies. And this remains to be seen how the army acts at this critical time. Another theory in the cafeteria was that the president wanted to resign but after addressing the nation and the government was not allowing him this opportunity. Our mole says that the president’s speech is on schedule for August 13 at the Salaam Pakistan ceremony being held at the Presidency and the PTV has already made arrangements for the live telecast of this yearly event. The Zardari House has yet not directed the PTV to deny this chance to the president, who might fire back and tell the nation the “secrets” he has been holding in his chest. However, there are some who still expect a last minute surprise. They think that the president was not ready to surrender because his men have also done the “spade work” and the coalition might not get even closer to the magic number of 295, and it is the fear of defections within its own ranks that the coalition has decided to delay tabling of resolution in the National Assembly until the provincial assemblies pass it.

Tailpiece: It was President Musharraf’s 65th birthday on Monday (August 11). But this time it must be in a pensive mood. It is surely the most difficult time of his life. But it remains an enigma which force is backing him to continue clinging to power when all political parties including his own supporters want him out of office.

Daily Times, 12/8/2008

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