Leaders, parties and partnerships — Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi

Zardari was not focused on just two items, i.e. removal of Musharraf and restoration of the judges. Being the leader of the ruling party, he received input from various domestic and external sources, which influenced his decisions
The PMLN leadership has accused the PPP of betrayal because the latter refused to honour a written commitment to restore the deposed judges. The PPP thinks that the PMLN was unable or unwilling to understand the pressures on the government from different sources. It viewed the PMLN’s hard line approach, focused on one issue, as an obstacle to effective governance.

The PPP-PMLN partnership failed because of their inability to manage the coalition, which was very different from the coalition politics of the past. Other factors that undermined their partnership include the different dispositions and styles of leadership and differences in the support bases of the two parties.

This was the first time that the ruling coalition included two major parties that were capable of functioning effectively on their own. This was different from the past when one party or leader dominated the ruling coalition, because other parties were too small to threaten to the government. The Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) of the 1990s was dominated by the PML led by Nawaz Sharif. When the Jama’at-e Islami withdrew, the ruling coalition did not run into difficulties.

The current coalition was dominated by two major parties, which made its management a complex affair. The exit of the PMLN has practically made it defunct, although the two smaller parties, the ANP and the JUIF, are still on board. The JUIF is now in a bargaining mood for extending support to the PPP’s presidential candidate in return for acceptance of its demands pertaining to Islamisation and military operations in FATA.

The PMLN used pressure tactics from the beginning, i.e. oath-taking while wearing black armbands, withdrawal of ministers from the federal cabinet to force the government to accept its demand to reinstate the judges, and criticism of government policy while being part of the coalition. Even though some PMLN ministers returned to the cabinet earlier this month, they did not fully perform their obligations. These strains weakened the coalition, and it broke down with the PMLN’s exit.

The personality and worldview of the party chief plays a vital role in deciding party policies in Pakistan, where party structures are not fully developed and internal democracy in the parties is weak, if not absent altogether.

The party chiefs, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari, consult senior party leaders, most of which are nominated by the party chief. At times, both parties have detailed discussions on key political issues, but this is not the case all the time as internal consultation and democracy are not well developed traditions. At times, the party chief takes a decision on his own which may or may not involve consultation with a few closely trusted people. Other leaders are expected to defend the chief’s decision even if the leaders differ with the party chief’s decision.

This means that it is important to examine the leadership style and worldview of the party chiefs. Sharif often takes a simplistic, black-and-white view of complex issues. This leads him to pursue single or limited issue politics in either-or terms, and creates rigidity in his approach — often labelled ‘principled politics’. Another drawback of such politics is that the party’s demands are projected as issues of party reputation and prestige, which further reduce scope for accommodation.

In the post-election period, Sharif was focused on two issues — removal of Musharraf and restoration of the judges. He complained about the PPP’s slow movement towards Musharraf’s removal. Once this was achieved, Sharif focused on the judges’ restoration to the extent of staking his political reputation on the matter.

A single-issue or uni-focal approach to political and societal affairs limits the prospects of political accommodation. Nawaz Sharif took the movement for the restoration of the judges to such a high pitch that he was left with no option but to withdraw from the coalition when this goal was not achieved or lose credibility. The imperatives of democratic politics are that the leader should always have several options available so as to retain the initiative. Sharif could have had more choices but his policy of viewing complex issues in simple terms made it almost impossible for him to stay in the coalition.

The PPP is dominated by Asif Ali Zardari, who is surrounded by a handpicked group of advisors. He has carefully excluded those who were close to Benazir Bhutto, fearing that they could build pressure on him because of their known association with the slain leader.

Zardari’s worldview appears to be quite complex, and takes into account the diverse pressures that influence policy options for governance and political management. He was not focused on just two items, i.e. removal of Musharraf and restoration of the judges. Being the leader of the ruling party, he received input from various domestic and external sources, which influenced his decisions. Sharif was not exposed to such pressures.

However, Zardari’s worldview must be influenced by the years of detention without conviction and the different pressures the governments of Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf applied on him during these years. This experience is expected to create strong distrust of political adversaries. It can also lead to the habit of keeping one’s moves or counter-moves as confidential as possible. This partly explains why he signed deals with Sharif on the restoration of the judges to address the problem at hand. However, he kept his real strategy on the judges’ issue to himself and his trusted lieutenants.

As a multi-focal leader Zardari is likely to be more accommodating than a uni-focal one. However, he may find it difficult to build reliable partnerships with the leaders and groups he or his close associates cannot trust. Their current disposition is influenced by past experience. However, this will be moderated as Zardari and his associates gain new and positive experience.

Further, the PPP’s worldview is shaped by its all-Pakistan character. As it has parliamentarians from all provinces, especially from Sindh and the Punjab, it will have to take into account a wide range of issues and pressures for decision-making.

The PMLN is based predominantly in the Punjab. It has a smaller number of parliamentarians from other provinces. Its strategy is to consolidate its position further in the Punjab to continue ruling the province and improve its bargaining position at the federal level by virtue of its hold over the Punjab. This perspective makes policy choices somewhat easier because it can ignore or downplay pressures from other provinces.

The PPP and the PMLN will have to make a real effort if they want to develop an enduring working relationship. This is possible if both pursue multi-issue politics and recognise that governance and political management involves the balancing of diverse internal and external demands against the backdrop of a consensus-based agenda, rather than on single-issue politics or strong political fixations.

Dr Hasan-Askari Rizvi is a political and defence analyst

Source: Daily Times, 31/8/2008

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