Monday, April 30, 2012

Daily Times Editorial May 1, 2012

Charter of Democracy: RIP Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani has poured cold water over the hopes of those relying on his replacement as PM to write the letter to the Swiss authorities. Thereby they hoped to bring down both the PM and the President. Further, the PM has reiterated his view that only parliament can decide whether he can continue as PM or not. Therefore there was no question of his resigning under pressure from any direction or any other institution. Although this implies a rejection of the Supreme Court’s (SC’s) verdict convicting him of contempt of court, nevertheless the PM in the next breath advised Nawaz Sharif to hold his horses until the detailed judgment of the SC, implying an appeal against the judgment, a process that must be exhausted before the question of starting the process of settling the future of the PM. Gilani’s defence lawyer Aitzaz Ahsan has supported his client’s view that only the Speaker of the National Assembly can disqualify the PM. Meanwhile a familiar (from the past) war of words has broken out between Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik on the one hand and the Sharifs and Chaudhry Nisar on the other. This ‘war’ has been sparked by Rehman Malik’s opening up his guns against the Sharifs’ alleged corruption, bank loan fraud, etc. Malik has appeared on TV to flash documents he says are proof positive of his accusations. In reply to the harsh answers he has received from the Sharifs and Chaudhry Nisar for his pains, Rehamn Malik has challenged them to sue him for libel. Nawaz Sharif is now planning to stump all over the country to contact ‘like-minded’ opposition forces in the hope of forging a grand opposition alliance to launch a protest movement against Gilani continuing in office. However, at this time it is difficult to assess the chances of the success of such a venture, since despite their misgivings about the heightened confrontation between the executive and parliament on the one hand and the judiciary on the other, most people seem willing to wait for the judicial and political process to play itself out before they may be persuaded to pour out into the streets against the sitting PM. To those with living memories of the confrontations between the PPP and PML-N in the 1990s, all this may seem very much like déjà vu. However, while that decade of democracy ended in a military coup, if Chaudhry Shujaat is to be believed, the military is far from keen to take over and is only “observing” the situation from the sidelines. There is little doubt that given the plethora of serious problems confronting the country, it would need either extraordinary courage or foolhardiness to want to be responsible for running the country at present. What the deepening confrontation between the two main parties portends is the end of the period that began with the signing of the Charter of Democracy between the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif in 2007 while both were in exile and out in the political cold. A pragmatic realisation that General Musharraf could not be removed ‘from the outside’ finally persuaded both rival parties to join hands. BB must be given the major credit for that political wisdom. This effort to bring the political class together to settle once and for all the fundamental rules of the political game was informed by its main thrust of taking a principled position against military dictatorship and the vow that neither side would indulge (a la the 1990s) in pulling down or toppling each other’s government’s by approaching and/or collaborating with military adventurers. The present developing scenario may persuade most that it is time for us to say adieu to any such ideas. Whether the confrontation between the two mainstream political camps will end up with the same result as at the end of the 1990s is not clear at this point, and Chaudhry Shujaat’s wisdom on the army’s reluctance to step in may carry a lot of weight. However, one conclusion seems inescapable: the Charter of Democracy, a good idea and one that most observers thought at the time was an idea whose time had finally come, seems dead in the water, with both sides of the political divide having to bear the cross of their responsibility for bringing things to this pass. RIP, Charter of Democracy.

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