Sunday, May 13, 2012

Daily Times Editorial May 14, 2012

Show of strength Since the conviction of Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani by the Supreme Court for contempt, the opposition PML-N has ‘gone on the warpath’ against the PM and the PPP-led coalition government. This ‘Go Gilani Go’ campaign was launched without proper homework or taking the other opposition parties on board. The ‘solo’ flight of the PML-N therefore has failed to yield the desired results, despite Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif personally joining and egging on the anti-load shedding protests and elder brother Nawaz Sharif threatening to do the same unless the problem is resolved within four days. In the process, the language being used by the PML-N leaders against the PPP, its leadership and the government has turned increasingly bitter, violent, abusive and denigratory. Stung by what has by now become a pattern in the ‘war of words’ launched against it, the PPP has decided to hit back. The first such manifestation has been the huge rally organised by the PPP at Kamu Shaheed on the provincial boundary between Punjab and Sindh, which according to Chief Minister Sindh Qaim Ali Shah, counted one million people in attendance. Even if one allows for some exaggeration in these matters by the organisers of all rallies, there is no doubting the huge size of the mobilisation achieved by the PPP in its retaliatory mode. To further underline its show of strength, which far outshone even the best of the PML-N’s efforts to date, Qaim Ali Shah vowed that 50 million Sindhis would march towards Lahore if Nawaz Sharif continued to berate the PPP amidst attempts to see the back of the federal government. He criticised Nawaz’s politics by saying he was only indulging in creating chaos and should have the patience to wait till November or December this year, a reference perhaps to the expected general elections. Both Qaim Ali Shah and the PM from London have been rubbing salt into the wounds of Nawaz Sharif for having signed a deal with dictator Musharraf in return for exile and staying out of politics for 10 years. Other speakers from the PPP at the Kamu Shaheed rally asserted that the PPP would take out rallies in other parts of the country to counter the PML-N. President Asif Ali Zardari has congratulated Qaim Ali Shah and the organisers of the rally for a successful show of strength, which will no doubt encourage the PPP to jettison its policy of ‘reconciliation’ so far in favour of taking the gloves off against an aggressive rival. For objective observers, the accusations and counter-accusations of the two sides against each other and the mobilisation of their cadres and supporters could threaten street battles between the contending sides. However, in the usual manner in our politics of leaving ‘grey’ areas for compromise open, if the reports of Maulana Fazlur Rehman of the JUI’s task of playing a mediatory role between the two antagonists are correct, the alarmist prognosis of clashes in the street may be proved just that: too alarmist. The redoubtable Maulana has been charged with bringing the two sides together (or rather persuading them to retreat from the brink of an all-out confrontation) and sort out the matter of the appointment of a permanent chief election commissioner with an eye on the arrangements for holding the next general elections. Since the PML-N has been boycotting any forum where it is required (constitutionally now) to cooperate with the PPP and other parties, on the question of the chief election commissioner and the possible caretaker government to conduct elections, consensus has been conspicuous by its absence. Normal political rivalry, so long as it remains within peaceful and civilised norms, is to be expected and perhaps even constitutes the true essence of democracy, but carrying things to the level of an enmity that brooks no retreat is unwise, both for the interests of the political class in the continuation of the democratic system, as well as given the dire straits the country is in. If the Maulana can pull this rabbit out of a hat and get the two sides to back off, cool down and get down to the business of running the system, even if at the minimal irreducible level required by the constitution, he will have made a positive contribution to the polity and its future.

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