Thursday, October 22, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Oct 19, 2015

A house divided The aftermath of the narrow victory in the NA-122 by-election and the losses in the PP-147 constituency in the same area and the NA-144 seat in Okara has brought unusual creases of worry to the brow of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. These worry lines are being caused by some of these new trends as well as some older problems within the ranks of the ruling PML-N. First the by-elections. PML-N's Ayaz Sadiq barely scraped home by a few thousand votes. The provincial seat in Lahore was lost in no uncertain fashion, providing the ruling party's main rival the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf some consolation. The Okara seat was lost to an independent candidate. In all three by-elections, rivers of gold and silver flowed from all sides. Not that this is a new phenomenon in our politics, but this occasion seems to have broken all past records. This underlines the reality that elections have now become such an expensive endeavour as to cut out all but moneybags with overflowing pockets. Conspicuous by its absence in this spending free for all was the Election Commission of Pakistan that failed to enforce spending limits laid down in the rules. The prime minister took his younger brother, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, as well as senior ministers and leaders of the party to task in a meeting at his residence in Lahore on the eve of his departure to the US for failing to support the campaigns of all their three candidates in these constituencies. While this reflects the seeming deep divisions within the party at the top level, it is only the tip of the iceberg. Federal ministers are publicly at each other's throats in recent days. Thus their statements in the media have exposed the PML-N as a house divided. To illustrate, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar (who was conspicuous by his absence) has reportedly not been talking to Defence, Water and Power Minister Khwaja Asif for at least four years! The former has rubbed the point home by saying publicly that he has no use for the defence ministry since he has direct access to GHQ. What this says about civilian supremacy needs no explanation. Khwaja Asif seems to be at loggerheads with a number of federal cabinet ministers as well as top leaders of the PML-N. Thus he is reported to have had a row not so long ago with Shahbaz Sharif regarding the latter's criticism of the workings of the Power ministry in managing the energy deficit and its concomitant persistent load shedding, a failure that is starker because of the exaggerated claims of the PML-N during the 2013 elections campaign to overcome load shedding within, variously, days, weeks, months. Halfway through its tenure, the government has fallen flat on its face in this regard, a failure highlighted by an extremely critical report by NEPRA regarding corruption and mismanagement in the energy sector. Khwaja Asif, in tandem with the Oil and Gas Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, has rounded on Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal. To add to the party's troubles, the rival factions of Punjab Minister of Law Rana Sanaullah and Chaudhry Sher Ali are publicly at daggers drawn over the impending local bodies elections,not the least because of a tussle over the mayor's slot in Faisalabad. Until now, Nawaz Sharif has behaved in a distant, aloof manner regarding these rifts but the by-elections outcome seems to have woken him up to the likely impact on the results of the local bodies elections of a divided party. Why is the PML-N's leadership behaving in this immature fashion? The reasons are to be found in the party's political culture which, despite the party being in electoral politics for decades, is not internally democratic. Thus individual egos and rivalries easily trump concepts of collective cabinet responsibility and internal fissures and differences not being aired in public. Second, the party is now suffering the almost inevitable trajectory of public opprobrium for its manifest inability to deliver an easing of the people's travails even halfway through its tenure. For the prime minister, the writing on the wall has finally become discernible in the light of the by-elections trend. The next elections will follow the local government elections and the latter's results can indirectly make or break the party's fortunes in 2018. Plenty to worry about, prime minister.

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