A new one for every new day
Pakistan’s politics moves from crisis to crisis. The Supreme Court judgment on April 26, 2012, has plunged Pakistan into another political crisis. The federal government and the opposition are at each other’s throats. The opposition views the judgment of the Supreme Court as yet another opportunity to pull down the federal government. The federal government is in another fight for survival.
Politics in Pakistan has invariably faced serious crises as a consequence of the assertive role of non-elected state institutions. In the past, the military used to take action against elected leaders and institutions either by imposing its direct rule or by joining with the president to remove the elected prime minister (1988-1999). This time, it is another non-elected state institution, the Supreme Court, that has asserted its role against an elected prime minister. In the past, a section of the political elite always supported the military’s assertive role in order to get rid of the political adversary. We are witnessing a similar support for the judgment of the Supreme Court.
No doubt, the Supreme Court adopted a middle course strategy of asserting the authority of the judges by convicting the prime minister of contempt of court but gave him symbolic punishment. However, this caused the two political crises.
First, despite the conviction of the prime minister, the federal government is not expected to write the letter to Swiss authorities to revive corruption cases against President Asif Ali Zardari. Even if the ruling coalition changes the prime minister, the new incumbent is expected to adopt the same position on writing of letter. The root cause of divergence between the federal government and the Supreme Court will persist.
Second, a new confrontation has started between the government and the opposition because the latter wants to knock out the prime minister on the basis of the judgment of the Supreme Court. This controversy will shift the attention of the federal and provincial governments away from socio-economic problems that adversely affect the common people. The on-going governmental and societal decay will accelerate.
There are six major ways to get rid of the prime minister:
1. The Supreme Court specifically disqualifies him from staying as the member of the National Assembly or removes him from the office of prime minister. Apparently, the Supreme Court does not have power to directly remove him.
2. The prescribed disqualification procedure is adopted that involves the role of the Speaker of the National Assembly and the Chief Minister. If this procedure declares the prime minister disqualified, he loses his job and membership of the National Assembly.
3. The PML(N) and other opposition parties resort to nationwide sustained agitation for a couple of weeks. This also results in violence, paralysing the federal government and the PPP governments in the provinces.
4. All opposition parties resign together from the two houses of the parliament and the provincial assembly. The PML(N) will have to take the lead in this case. However, it will also lose its government in the Punjab.
5. The four-party ruling coalition decides to change the prime minister in order to deflect the opposition pressure. They can nominate a new leader of the house and seek the confidence of the National Assembly.
6. The ruling coalition at the federal level breaks down. Some partners decide to join hands with the opposition for street agitation against the federal government.
Much will depend on the future of the ruling coalition at the federal level. If the ruling coalition stays intact, the chances of the survival of the prime minister appear bright. They can however, ease political tension by replacing the prime minister with another person of their choice.
The opposition is expected to pursue two-option strategy. Their preferred option is to cause the collapse of the PPP-led federal government. The fallback option is the replacement of the prime minister.
A shouting match has already started between the supporters of the federal government and the opposition inside and outside the parliament. This will turn the TV talk-shows into entertainment as the “drum-beaters” of different parties try to outwit each other.
The PML(N) has taken the lead in demanding the resignation of the prime minister forthwith. They have declared that they do not recognize Gilani as prime minister and Nawaz Sharif has threatened to adopt all possible methods to remove the government. The adoption of such a hardline position right from the beginning is likely to create problems for the PML(N).
It is doubtful if the PML(N) alone can launch a sustained nationwide agitation to remove the federal government. Open and total confrontation cannot be the opening strategy, especially when the PML(N) does not have a good track record of partnership with other political parties.
The PTI of Imran Khan also demanded the resignation of the prime minister. However, unlike Nawaz Sharif, Imran Khan has adopted a cautious approach by maintaining that his party would wait for the completion of the appeal process on the part of the prime. If the prime minister continued to stay on afterwards the PTI can opt for street protest. He made his demand effectively without going straight–away for street confrontation. He has kept his options open.
The PML(N) can pursue street protest in the Punjab where it controls the provincial government. But this will not succeed unless other political parties join it.
Another factor that can influence the future direction of politics is the disposition of the army. Whether it maintains a non-partisan disposition or gives encouraging signals to the opposition by, once again, building pressure on the federal government?
Pakistan is entering another highly volatile and bitterly contested period of domestic politics. The budget session in the parliament is going to be very stormy. The federal government would like to give a people’s friendly budget because of the forthcoming elections. The opposition will contest this bitterly if the federal government lasted till then.
All this adds to uncertainty about the future direction of Pakistani politics and will continue to raise question about its capacity to address its internal and external problems. The on-going crisis in the Pakistan-US relations will fester as Pakistan’s federal government faces the new survival threat in the domestic context. This will make it difficult for Pakistan to attract external financial support that will in turn undermine the capacity of the federal government to address the on-going socio-economic crisis and internal stability issues.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.