VIEW: Making and unmaking of coalitions —Anwar Syed - Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Source :\05\03\story_3-5-2011_pg3_3

The PPP government does not have the numbers required to pass its budget for the next fiscal year. In that event it will fall. To avoid this eventuality, and to the utter amazement of political observers in the country, it has persuaded the PML-Q to join its ranks

The ruling party at the Centre, the PPP, does not command majority support in the National Assembly. It formed a coalition with some of the smaller parties in the house to create the requisite majority and set up a government. Some of them have since then abandoned the PPP and the fate of its government is problematic. If it does fall, Mr Gilani and his ministers will have to vacate their offices and official residences and go home. The leader of the opposition will then be invited to form an alternative government, failing which new elections will be called. The party that emerges as the largest in the assembly will be given the task of setting up the new government. It is possible that this party will not constitute a majority of the house, in which case it will have to recruit partners as its predecessors had done.

It may be argued that even if the central government is fragile, it will not matter much because most of its functions and powers will have been transferred to the provincial governments by the middle of 2012. But it so happens that the provinces on their part are being governed by coalitions and not by a single party. It is a known fact that coalition governments are weaker than one-party governments everywhere in the world. Nothing can be done about it, because it is also a known fact that coalitions, and not single parties, are governing most of the democracies. Even the United Kingdom, known for two mainstream parties alternating in power for several decades, no longer has a single party dominating the House of Commons. The Conservatives have recently made an alliance with the Liberals to fabricate a majority and form the government. How do we explain this multiplication of parties?

We may have situations in which two parties are similar in terms of their ideological persuasions and programmatic preferences. They might be regarded as natural allies who should act together. If they have not merged, that is because each f them wants to keep its own identity alive and the head of neither of them is willing to give up the helmsman’s slot. Take, for instance, the case of the two main PML factions, namely, PML-N and PML-Q. They are not kept apart by differences of ideology or policy options. One cannot be sure that either of them has any known ideology at all. It is probable that each of them is guided by the quest for power and the rewards that come with it. Furthermore they stand away from each other because Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain and his associates are anathema to Mian Nawaz Sharif. The same may be said to some extent of the Jamaat-e-Islami and the JUI. They both want to Islamise Pakistan and their definitions of Islamisation are essentially the same. But Maulana Fazlur Rehman would be loath to vacate the pulpit in favour of Syed Munawwar Hasan. Nor would the latter yield to the Maulana.

Coalitions may also be made for entirely pragmatic reasons. Two parties may come together, having calculated that their combined pressure on the government of the day may bring larger benefits to their leading men than would be the case if they went their separate ways. The government may ward off their pressure by offering them jobs as ministers. This scenario will most likely come to pass if the ruling party’s numerical position in parliament is shaky. It was this kind of a situation which induced all of the major parties in the country — PML-N, PML-Q, MQM, JUI, ANP — to join coalitions with the PPP at the Centre and in the provinces. This happened in spite of the fact that none of them thought well of the PPP. The MQM leaders denounced Qaim Ali Shah’s government in Sindh in which two of its own notables were ministers. They reasoned that if their participation in the Sindh government could keep the departments in their charge on the straight and narrow path of virtue, it would be a gain for the polity. Not many of the political observers may have found this reasoning to be convincing.

Prime Minister Gilani fired one of his ministers belonging to the JUI because the latter had accused one of his colleagues of corruption. In protest the JUI withdrew its other ministers from the government. But, curiously enough, its members continued to sit on the government benches for a time. On second thought, as it were, they moved across the aisle to the ranks of the opposition. The MQM has moved back and forth across the aisle in the Sindh Assembly and the National Assembly more than once. There is little, if anything, that is common between the PPP, MQM, and the JUI except perhaps professions of commitment to the national interest, a complex subject that invites serious consideration.

As noted above, the PPP government does not have the numbers required to pass its budget for the next fiscal year. In that event it will fall. To avoid this eventuality, and to the utter amazement of political observers in the country, it has persuaded the PML-Q (whom President Zardari used to call a League of killers) to join its ranks. It has agreed to assign five ministries to its nominees and appoint another one of them, Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, as deputy prime minister (a designation of which there is no mention in the constitution). The two parties have also agreed to cooperate with one another in the forthcoming Senate elections and the general elections, which may be held about the middle of 2012. It remains to be seen how this bargain will fare after the budget has been passed.

One cannot be sure where the PML-N and its leader, Mr Nawaz Sharif, stand while all these political games are being played around them. His primacy in Punjab was taken for granted. He has remained aloof from the politics of making and unmaking coalitions. He had been denouncing Mr Gilani’s government for corruption and incompetence. He gave the people the impression that he and his party were going to launch a mass movement to oust it. But he has done no such thing. The view is gaining ground that while he is a good listener, he is much too slow in making decisions and taking action. One should not be surprised if his standing is being impaired to some extent by these inclinations on his part.

The writer, professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts, is a visiting professor at the Lahore School of Economics. He can be reached at

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