ANALUSIS: Tiff, tussle, or fight? —Anwar Syed - Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Source :\03\08\story_8-3-2011_pg3_2

The PPP members of the Punjab Assembly have moved to the opposition benches, declaring at the same time that they will do nothing to destabilise Shahbaz Sharif’s government. It remains to be seen if this tussle between the PML-N and PPP will be carried over to the National Assembly

Several weeks ago Mr Nawaz Sharif, head of the PML-N, issued a 10-point agenda for improving the country’s governance and economy and called upon President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to implement it within 45 days, failing which he would organise a mass movement to press for it. This deadline has passed and there are no signs of the present government’s movement in that direction. Teams of the PPP and PML-N recently met to take stock of the government’s response to Mr Sharif’s demands. They failed to reach agreement on a finding and reported failure to their parent bodies.

Newsmen asked Mr Sharif what he intended to do now. He was, as usual, ambivalent. He said he would wait and see if the government made the right moves during the next four to six weeks. He anticipated that the people, who were greatly oppressed by the current misgovernance, would come out in a protest movement. It might force the government to mend its ways or else they might demand mid-term elections. He did not say that he and his party would organise and lead such a movement. Seeing the mood of the people, political forces in the National Assembly other than the PPP might not allow the budget to pass in which case the government would fall.

The PPP says that in the elections of 2008 it received the mandate to put together a coalition to govern for a term of five years, which it will complete. Mr Sharif may say that his party too received a mandate to put together a government, but that if it could not do so, it had the mandate to act as an opposition.. Mr Sharif has been saying all along that the government of Mr Zardari and Mr Gilani is intolerably corrupt and incompetent. Yet he has been reluctant to do anything to remove it. He is asking the nation to endure this bad government for many more months. It is clear that he has chosen to be timid even as a leader of the opposition. He used to argue that the present government’s ouster would derail the democratic system in this country, which was an entirely unviable position. He is not advancing that argument anymore. He now wants to defer his response to the current state of affairs for an indefinite period of time. This disposition of his is hard to understand.

Since his return to Pakistan after some eight years of exile in Jeddah and London, Mr Sharif has been trying to project himself as a senior statesman. He has wanted to appear cautious and deliberate, not hasty or impetuous. But as the ancient Greek philosophers used to say, excess even of virtue is to be avoided. His inclination to be cautious and deliberate has actually made him indecisive. Another explanation of his tardiness in responding to the PPP’s bad governance may be that he thinks he is not ready to contest a new election. This is not good thinking; statesmanship requires attention not only to the issues and problems of today but also those likely to arise tomorrow and the day after. A statesman watches the interests of society around him and considers those of the generations to come. Indecisiveness is no part of statesmanship.

It is true that success in elections requires organisation and planning ahead of time. A party contesting them has to find candidates who are likely to win, constituencies where the requisite resources can be gathered, a programme of action or manifesto that is to be presented to voters, slogans that will be shouted during the campaign, workers who will mobilise the vote, and speakers who will address party meetings. All of this can be done within a relatively short time. Several elections in our own experience have been held within 90 days of the contingency which required them had surfaced. One may recall in this connection the elections of 1988, 1990, 1993 and 1996, each one of which was held within 90 days of the president’s dismissal of the National Assembly. Mr Sharif’s party emerged as the largest group in one of these elections (1990), and won a two-third majority in another (1996). In an election that may be held later in 2011 or 2012 the PML-N would not be situated any worse than the other parties. There is no need then for any particular misgiving regarding a mid-term election.

Mr Sharif said recently that his party and the PPP had come to a parting of the ways, and that they would henceforth be opponents of each other. Mr Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister, has discharged all of the PPP ministers that were earlier included in his cabinet. The PPP members of the Punjab Assembly have moved to the opposition benches, declaring at the same time that they will do nothing to destabilise Shahbaz Sharif’s government. It remains to be seen if this tussle between the PML-N and PPP will be carried over to the National Assembly. Mr Sharif does not have the numbers to move and pass a no-confidence resolution against the present government. Nor does the PPP government command majority support in the House to sustain it without the assistance of allies. It appears that the contest between the PML-N and PPP will end up as having been merely a tiff.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics

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