Post-coalition troubles —Rasul Bakhsh Rais


Having greatly benefited from the judiciary issue, the PMLN now has its eyes on future elections. In both ways it stood to gain politically; if the judiciary were restored, it could claim victory; if it weren’t or isn’t, it could clash with the PPP on a popular issue. Now that the battle-lines are drawn we will see how it intends to cash in on its decision to opt out of the coalition.

When I sat down to write this, I had the following questions in mind.

Will the coalition parties manage to stay together? How long will their partnership last now that Musharraf is gone? Are the leaders of the PPP and the PMLN really serious about sharing power and providing stability during the most difficult period Pakistan has faced in decades?

The coalition is history now but these questions have not become irrelevant. In terms of the underlying norm that must sustain Pakistan and its politics, they now resonate with most Pakistanis.

What went wrong?

On the surface, there were three divisive issues: the restoration of deposed judges, the security operations in FATA and the election of the next president. Their amicable resolution could restore confidence in the ability of the two major parties to build a strong political partnership. That did not happen.

Let us start with the judges’ issue, and see why the PMLN appeared to be staking its short- and long-term political interest on the deposed judges. Is the League a newborn liberal democrat deeply rooted in the Lockean philosophy of free government or is it driven by a visible political gain? In my view, the idea of free government checked by law and constitution has never been close to the hearts and minds of our ruling classes.

It was only in the wake of the lawyers’ and civil society movement that the question of an independent judiciary emerged as one of the core, popular political issues. The PMLN had sensed the pre-election public mood better than its rivals in the Punjab, and it favoured restoration of the judges where anti-Musharraf feelings ran high.

Very prudently, the PMLN drew closer to the lawyers’ and civil society movement by owning the issue of the deposed judges. To strengthen its pro-judiciary image, it asked all its candidates who were contesting elections to take an oath never to accept anything less than the restoration of the full and complete superior judiciary as it existed before November 3, 2008. Since other political parties of the All Pakistan Democratic Movement (APDM) had boycotted the elections, the PMLN benefited politically, bagging most of the votes.

Having greatly benefited from the judiciary issue, the PMLN now has its eyes on future elections. In both ways it stood to gain politically; if the judiciary were restored, it could claim victory; if it weren’t or isn’t, it could clash with the PPP on a popular issue. Now that the battle-lines are drawn we will see how it intends to cash in on its decision to opt out of the coalition.

The PPP, after giving very clear signals through two joint declarations that it would restore the judges has succeeded in pushing the issue finally to the floor of the National Assembly, a move rejected by the PMLN. From the comments of some PPP leaders, one is not sure if the party will support a resolution to restore all deposed judges. As statements by Asif Ali Zardari show, the PPP feels that some of the judges, notably the deposed chief justice, have become ‘controversial’. With the PMLN gone, we will have to wait and see what the PPP does.

It does seem that the PPP is not interested in restoring the entire judiciary: hence the move to take the issue for a vote in the National Assembly on the basis of the argument that the sovereignty of parliament must prevail.

Allied with the judges issue has been that of the president’s election. The PMLN smelled that the PPP wanted to upstage it by pressing ahead with the president’s election without committing to any deadline on the restoration of the judiciary. This is what has unravelled the coalition. The PMLN was also opposed to the PPP policy on FATA. However, now that does not matter since the PMLN is no more a part of the coalition.

As the situation stands, the PPP will have the support of the ANP, JUIF and the MQM. The PMLN will rely on the APDM parties, though they cannot be effective in parliament having chosen not to contest the elections. To save the Punjab, the PMLN will also rely on reaching out to the PMLQ. Such are the vagaries of realpolitik.

Militancy and extremist violence pose a great threat to state and society, and Pakistan must learn to address them in the best possible way. It is for the first time that our security personnel have been mercilessly slaughtered by the militants on our own soil. They have taken hostage the citizens in FATA and even the big cities where they have been conducting suicide bombings. It is a sad situation that our two main political parties are not speaking the same language.

The PPP and the ANP have taken a more rational approach than the rhetorical position of the PMLN. This is an issue that will determine the future direction of Pakistan and shouldn’t be a matter of political vantage. The bickering and political confusion have encouraged the militants to escalate their attacks in recent weeks.

The PMLN has stayed closer to a conservative constituency and used it as a stick against the PPP-led coalition government. It has maintained an ambiguous position, blaming security operations more than the heinous acts of the militants.

This was a time for the coalition to stand united to address the real issues. But it has made shipwreck on the rocks of one issue, i.e., the judiciary. We are very likely to see bitter political rivalry in the days to come with both parties trying to outflank each other. That will have its impact on governance, including fighting the extremists.

Not a happy situation, this. The PPP has given in to its impulse of self interest and the PMLN has been unable to modify its inflexible stance on the judiciary. Sadly, there does not seem to be much hope.

Dr Rasul Baksh Rais is author of Recovering the Frontier State: War, Ethnicity and State in Afghanistan (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books 2008) and a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at rasul@lums.edu.pk

Source: Daily Times, 26/8/2008

Leave a Reply