Saturday, April 28, 2012

Daily Times Editorial April 29, 2012

Looming confrontation? In the National Assembly (NA) the other day, Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani threw down the gauntlet to the opposition to move a no-confidence motion against him if they were adamant that he was no longer the PM after the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) contempt conviction. On the occasion, neither the Leader of the Opposition Chaudhry Nisar nor his PML-N colleagues were present in the house, the former having absented himself despite his blood-curdling threat to prevent (physically?) the PM’s entry into the NA, the latter for having walked out when the PM entered. Not that that prevented Chaudhry Nisar from repeating his unparliamentary threat in Nawaz Sharif’s press conference. This language, tone and message is hardly befitting of the Leader of the Opposition, considered a PM-in-waiting in parliamentary democracies. His leader, Nawaz Sharif, did not tarry far behind his lieutenant. He demanded the PM step down immediately “otherwise he will face unexpected results”. There is an implied threat in the sub-text of this message too. Both PML-N leaders need to be reminded that such language and messages would shame even a criminal denizen of Bhaati Gate in Lahore, let alone two major opposition figures. In the meantime, reports suggest the PML-N is reaching out to all the opposition parties and even the government’s coalition allies to try and create a front against the PM to stage protests throughout the country. So far, however, the latter are standing firm with the PM, while the latter present a picture of differing perspectives, not all of which may serve the PML-N’s purpose. For example, the other opposition parties in the NA did not follow the PML-N out of the NA but instead chose to listen to the PM’s speech. Outside parliament, Imran Khan’s Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) presents the PML-N with a dilemma. Convergence of interests against the PPP-led coalition government notwithstanding, the two parties are at daggers drawn because each views the other as its real rival, especially in Punjab, the PML-N’s traditional stronghold. How to square this with the need to come together against the PM is the conundrum for both sides. The US State Department spokesperson meanwhile has stated that Washington recognises and will continue to work with the PM. There are reports that in the light of the SC verdict, the PPP is mulling over the possibility of moving a resolution in the NA reiterating presidential immunity. The PML-N is not the only party contemplating street mobilisation in its cause. The PPP workers have already been out in anger at the SC verdict. Sporadic such protests continue. If the PML-N succeeds in mobilising its own and other opposition forces’ cadres on the streets, there is every likelihood that the PPP will not take this lying down. If it were in turn to mobilise or even turn a blind eye to the spontaneous mobilisation of its workers, a looming confrontation cannot be ruled out. Such a confrontation could throw the country into new uncertainty and chaos to add to the crises that already afflict us. It is interesting to note that on the very day the SC delivered its verdict against the PM, the PPP won a by-election in Multan on a seat it regained after decades. Does this presage a divide between politics and the judiciary? And yet the Sindh High Court saw fit to dismiss a petition praying for stopping the PM from working. The immediate fallout of the SC verdict is scary enough. But what may be exercising thoughtful minds even more is the danger that the possible looming confrontation may derail the entire effort to ensure a smooth democratic transition from this government to the next through the ballot box, a transition not very frequent in our unfortunate history, but critical if the democratic system is to be consolidated. The PML-N willy-nilly has a vested interest in such a transition. Wiser and more moderate heads in the PML-N are cautioning the leadership not to abandon its policy of restraint over the last four years, which has earned it the jibe of being a ‘friendly opposition’, a description not ordinarily considered disparaging in long established democracies. The restraint was dictated by our sorry history of praetorian forces waiting in the wings to take advantage of any seeds of confrontation between the two sides of the civilian political divide. If the effort for a democratic transition were to be derailed, the only beneficiary would be parties outside parliament like the PTI. Hence the discomfort of the PML-N on the horns of its dilemma.

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