The PPP’s political savvy might not be enough
By presenting the fifth consecutive budget in the parliament, the PPP-led coalition has gotten some sort of a feather in its cap. The fact that it has lasted longer than any political government in Pakistan is an achievement in itself.
Prime Minister Gilani has orchestrated quite a few deft political manoeuvres in order to keep his head above the water. The threat of imminent disqualification in the light of the Supreme Court’s convicting him for contempt was a major hurdle. Few thought that Gilani would survive this potentially fatal blow.
A stage was being set for the prime minister’s imminent disqualification. No one had anticipated that the speaker of the National Assembly, Fahmida Mirza, would not be content with merely playing the role of a ‘post office’ and would decide the matter in the prime minister’s favour instead of referring it to the Election Commission.
The apex court was certain that the prime minister would appeal its verdict against him. Efforts to constitute a larger bench were redoubled so that the matter of Gilani’s disqualification was disposed of in record time.
Initially, the Chief Justice of Pakistan decided to co-opt an acting judge and two ad hoc judges in the apex court in order to constitute a larger bench to hear Gilani’s appeal. Later, in light of the stiff opposition from the lawyers’ professional bodies, the Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, Justice Azmat Saeed, was moved to the Supreme Court.
The hype had built up so much that it was predicted that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry would not proceed to London to receive his “International Jurists award 2012” from the International Council of Jurists (not to be confused with ICJ, the prestigious International Commission of Jurists).The government, however, surprised everyone by deciding not to appeal (based on sound legal advice). The Chief Justice proceeded nonetheless to receive the award.
The prime minister himself had decided to go to Britain yet again to attend the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations early June but he cancelled. Similarly, the COAS was also due to attend the Shangri-La moot in Singapore under the auspices of International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) but he also decided to stay in the country.
Despite being in such a setting dripping with anticipation and apprehensions, the prime minister has survived yet again. With elections to be announced by the end of the year, the focus will inexorably shift from the question of Gilani’s removal to the appointment of an independent election commissioner and evolving a consensus on the formation of a caretaker government later this year. General elections must be held before February next year when the tenure of the present assemblies expires.
The Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s recent visit to Islamabad has somehow taken the sting out of the PML(N)’s agitation to oust Gilani. According to informed circles in the federal capital, Erdogan played a mediatory role between the Sharifs and Gilani.
Whatever the amount of truth in these reports, the focus of the opposition, both the PTI and PML(N), has shifted from directly questioning Gilani’s legitimacy to challenging the National Assembly speaker’s ruling in the apex court.
Despite the fact a lot of heat is being generated through their vitriolic criticism of each other, it cannot be denied that a lot is common between the PML(N) and the PPP. The PML(N) rules sixty percent of the country, the Punjab, while the PPP rules at the centre. Both parties have benefited from incumbency and the notorious spoils system. Thanks to the twentieth amendment, the provinces have a lot more cash to spend. And Punjab being the largest province is a major beneficiary. Hence, the reluctance of the PML(N) to resign their seats in the wake of the ‘Go Gilani, Go’ movement.
Similarly, the PPP - despite taking credit for consensus politics and institution building - has little to show for itself in terms of governance or improving the lot of the common man any better under its rule (or, more appropriately, misrule).
The PPP can draw vicarious pleasure out of the PML(N)’s obvious discomfort at Imran Khan’s phenomenal showing in the Punjab. But the PPP’s own prospects in the largest province are nothing less than dismal. Thus it would make sense to have a modicum of understanding with the PML(N) against a common enemy- Imran Khan.
Instead of delivering on governance, the PPP has resorted to populist gimmicks like carving out new provinces in Punjab. The president will be sending a reference to the National Assembly speaker calling for a constitution of a commission comprising of six senators and six members of the National Assembly for creation of two new provinces, Multan and Bahawalpur. This cynical move to initiate the process of amendments in the constitution in order to create new provinces is nothing more than an election ploy.
The budget presented by the finance minister - amidst virtual pandemonium in the house courtesy the opposition’s puerile tactics - was more of an election statement setting out very ambitious targets. But judging by the Economic Survey released on Thursday and the Governor State Bank’s recent interview to a US newspaper stating that printing notes and taking loans were running the government, the prospects for economic improvement remain dim and it is obvious that these target will not be met and that they are merely pandering to the voters.
Despite missing all fiscal targets, Dr Hafeez Sheikh has claimed that economic revival is around the corner. He has taken solace from the fact that the GDP growth rate in the current financial year has been the highest in the four-year tenure of the government. It was 3.7 percent against the targeted 4.2 per cent.
Admittedly, the international economic environment is not conducive to high growth rates. Even across the border, the Indian economy has perceptibly slowed down, anticipating a growth rate of 5.5 percent.
But this is scant solace fro the proverbial common man suffering under the yoke of perennial power outages, increasing inflation and unemployment. With a yawning gap between limited resources and ever increasing expectations, it is a monumental challenge for any incumbent to deliver. Hence most sitting governments in Pakistan lose elections.
The PPP would obviously like to be the exception to the rule. Of course, if being politically savvy were the sole criteria for success, the PPP would win hands down.
But with an extremely critical and free media not willing to give it any brownie points on governance and transparency coupled with a belligerent opposition smelling blood, it will an uphill task.
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today