Principles, politics, and power —Syed Mansoor Hussain

  • by

Considering that the Punjab government allowed the PMLN to have its public meeting in Lahore on Friday without any interference, the federal government should not only allow the Long March and dharna in Islamabad but should even facilitate it

I believe that most people in positions of power and authority really want, and try, to do the best they can. This is especially true of politicians elected as leaders, and I still believe it to be true irrespective of what is going on in Pakistan right now.

Even during the nineties, when political back and forth had become almost a game, I strongly felt that the way out was not the imposition of martial law but more, freer, elections. I still believe that the answer to our present crisis is not another dictatorial interregnum, but patience and an attempt to work out some sort of compromise.

That said, I also accept that all politicians are in the business of self-promotion to convince people to vote for them, so that they can win elections and eventually gain power. Even for the most sincere and honourable politician, principle and power is often the same thing. After all, if they cannot come to power, how can they convert their principles into political reality? This is not a cynical perspective but rather a realistic one.

Moreover, it is also a fact that once an election is held and a set of politicians comes to power, they, as well as their opponents, immediately start planning for the next elections. But what separates mature democracies from the less mature ones is that after a new political dispensation comes into place, politicians in the opposition bide their time and plan for the next constitutionally mandated elections rather than agitating for early elections.

Considering electoral ‘mandates’, contrary to misconceptions fed into by our media, a mandate means at least an effective if not an overwhelming majority and not just a plurality. As such in the election held last year, the people of Pakistan did not give any sort of mandate to any political party, except perhaps to the PPP in Sindh. .

About the political confrontation between the PPP and the PMLN, it has reached a point where any compromise seems impossible. But then, to repeat an old adage, politics is the art of the possible. And therefore anything can happen, even that which seems impossible right now.

Considering the present situation, there are two primary concerns that have brought the PMLN to the streets. These are the disqualification of the Sharif brothers from contesting elections and the consequential dismissal of Mr. Shahbaz Sharif as the CM of Punjab. Reinstatement of the ex CJ is in my opinion a secondary concern for them at this time.

Whatever might happen next — and the possibilities are indeed fluid — the fact remains that under the existing constitution of Pakistan, Mr Shahbaz Sharif cannot become chief minister of the Punjab again. And Mr Nawaz Sharif can neither become the prime minister of Pakistan or the chief minister of the Punjab. Therefore, both the Sharif brothers have effectively become incapable of holding positions of power, in the Punjab at least, even if their disqualification is reversed.

So is the anger and the anguish being demonstrated by the PMLN more due to the removal of the possibility of its president and ‘leader’ in future positions of power or due to principle?

I believe the governor of Punjab should call the Punjab assembly into session and ask the PMLN to demonstrate a majority. However, the majority should be demonstrated without the constitutionally forbidden floor crossing. If the two Muslim Leagues can join hands as parties and form a government, so be it.

This, however, leads to an interesting conundrum. If any two of the three major parties cannot get together and form government, then the governor of Punjab will have no choice but to eventually dissolve the assembly and ask for new elections. I have a vague suspicion that that might be the PMLN’s preference at this time.

Based on present political perceptions, if a fresh election is held in Punjab in the near future, the PMLN will most likely emerge with a majority and form government on its own. This might be reason enough for the PMLQ and the PPP to put their houses in order, form a coalition government and prevent a new election, or else the PMLQ and the PPP will most likely cease to exist as major political players in Punjab.

The unpredictable variable in such an election, if it happens, is however going to be the status of the ex-chief minister of Punjab. After all, in any election, the leader of the party that wins the election is expected to become the next leader of government. If the leader cannot assume that position then the commitment to party discipline of the people under him might waver.

The other big question is about the impending Long March and sit in (dharna) planned for this week. Considering that the Punjab government allowed the PMLN to have its public meeting in Lahore on Friday without any interference, the federal government should not only allow the Long March and dharna in Islamabad but should even facilitate it. The best way to defuse public protests is by allowing them to happen.

Here again, it remains to be seen whether the ex-chief justice can or will be reinstated. An interesting possibility is that if some form of rapprochement occurs between the PMLN and the PPP, the status of the ex-CJ might have to be put aside for consideration later.

Finally, the often-repeated claim by the leadership of the PMLN that President Zardari has fooled them too many times seems utterly disingenuous. As they say in the old country, fool me once, shame on you, fool me again, shame on me.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

Reproduced by permission of Daily Times\03\09\story_9-3-2009_pg3_2

Leave a Reply