Trading Dark Horses

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The process of the General Elections of Oct 12, 2002 was completed by Saturday Nov 2. Due to meet on Friday Nov 8 the National Assembly (NA) was postponed for a week at the request of some political parties to give them some time to shore up their coalition arrangements. A proposed alliance led by PPP-P and MMA is pitted almost equally against the grouping led by PML (Q). With the bogey of “hung Parliament” hanging in the air, one doubts whether a stable government could be formed in the Centre. Both the PPP-P (which privately had called for a delay) and the MMA immediately condemned the postponement, labeling it as a machination of the incumbent military government trying to contrive a PML (Q)-led government coalition.

Who are the main players in the power game? PML (Q)’s Ch Shujaat Hussain with the largest number of MNAs must be counted as a major player, followed closely by PPP-Ps self-exiled leader Ms Benazir Bhutto (and her incarcerated spouse Mr Asif Zardari). One must not forget Qazi Hussain Ahmad, the Jamaat-e-Islami chief who is the chief architect/planner of MMA’s strong showing, MQM’s self-exiled Altaf Hussain in London or the Jeddah-based exiled brothers Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif of PML (N). The name of the game is acquisition of power, somehow! What is of consequence is that all the political parties are talking to each other i.e. except for PML (Q) and PML (N), an anomaly that needs to be corrected. And who are the contenders for the prized post of PM? The horses in contention are Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali of PML (Q), Makhdoom Amin Fahim of PPP-P and MMA’s Maulana Fazlur Rahman. While PML (Q)’s Khurshid Kasuri and Humayun Akhtar cannot be ruled out as possible choices, compromise candidates can be Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao of PPP (S) or Hamid Nasir Chatha of PML (J). In this world of horse-trading, is there a dark horse somewhere?

Just before the NA postponement the news spread that the PPP-P had reached an understanding with MMA, proposing Maulana Fazlur Rahman as the joint candidate for PM-ship. This was rather mind-boggling as for the past month Ms Benazir has been bemoaning the “Talibanization” of the future Pakistan government to all and sundry in the western world, in public and private, most recently in an appearance on the same platform with former Israeli PM Ehud Barak in a seminar in Michigan, US. On the other hand, she cleverly stoked Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s ambitions by telephoning him a day after the elections as her choice for PM, thus nearly contriving the disintegration of the MMA even before they entered Parliament. Maulana Fazlur Rahman has been a net beneficiary of Ms Benazir’s benevolence, he is not known as Maulana “Diesel” for nothing (befitting the diesel permits he was given by the previous PPP regime for the border areas of Pakistan adjacent to Afghanistan). Since Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s JUI (F) provided the maximum recruits from Pakistan for the Talibaan, this “partnership of convenience” may be really difficult to explain to the western world if it is consummated, but then Ms Benazir is no ordinary politician and “doublespeak” is a part of the armory of any consummate player. Ms Benazir’s PPP-P desperately needs a deal wherein (1) the charges against her are dropped and ostensibly also (2) the charges against her jailed husband are dropped. Used to calculated risks, she has gambled big time, using MMA the PML (Q) into a coalition with her. On the other hand, with Asif Zardari entering into the discussions with senior government officials late in the night in his PIMS hospital-jail, the negotiations could turn serious, only the finer details remaining to be hammered out. Without commenting on the charges of corruption against him, the fact remains that Asif Zardari has borne his extended incarceration extremely well and in excellent humour. He may have entered politics as Ms Benazir’s husband and in her shadow, he is now clearly a major political leader in his own right.

During the process of selection of electoral candidates by PPP-P it became clear that there was a Bhutto-Zardari divide on choice of MNA/MPA aspirants in the stampede for PPP tickets. Despite all the lovey-dovey rhetoric, would Ms Benazir really like Asif Zardari to emerge from imprisonment and take over the reins of the Party? Zardari has proven he is a strong leader and by not succumbing to deals he has shown, he can take the heat, his presence may change the complexion of the present PPP-P stance which presently is totally dependant upon remote control by Ms Benazir. All things said and done, we have seen over the years that when he gives his word Asif Zardari will keep it but that Ms Benazir is always hard put to keep hers once she gets what she wants. There is always the question where will be the credibility of the military regime and its accountability process if Zardari is allowed to walk free? In the absence of NAB proving the charges against him, the rule of law is on Zardari’s side. Others far more guilty than he has ever been accused of in a court of law are walking around free, there is no justification for keeping him confined (for over six years now). At present the NAB law seems to be Zardari-specific, that is not a just application of justice.

What does this do to the MMA? Regretfully, the MMA has been hostage to Maulana Fazlur Rahman’s soft corner for Ms Benazir and may ultimately to find itself out in the cold everywhere except in NWFP. As the party winning the third largest number of NA seats, it still has a possibility of getting at least one slot, either that of the NA Speaker or the Senate Chairman if it goes into coalition with PML (Q). Ms Benazir has been very skillfully using her two major pawns, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the octogenarian politician who will not go away quietly. If there is a PPP-P coalition with PML (Q) to make a government, it would be interesting to see how she discards these two. The MMA may have given strong showing in the elections but is trying to carve out a niche for itself which is not commensurate to its electoral strength. For MMA to have the PM-ship of the country, or even the Senate Chairman or NA Speaker’s slot, would be a travesty of justice on the citizens of this country. After all, 3.5 million votes out of the 33 million or so of the votes cast represents only 11% of the voting electorate and only 4% of the available electorate. By that token and given the present election statistics, they fall far short of aspiring to govern Pakistan.

This gives rise to another major, major concern. In the present situation, if the Senators are to be elected on the basis of voting by Provincial legislators it would not be correct. The MMA has nearly 50% of the seats in NWFP and Balochistan but only 11% of the votes cast, they will walk away with more than 30% of the seats in the Senate, is this true reflection of democracy? Every party should be allocated seats in each Province on the basis of what votes they actually got in each Province. The Seats in the Senate must be on Proportional Representation basis, that is a must for the stability of the Federation. This excellent suggestion in the proposed amendments to the Constitution should never have been revoked. The President must take immediate action to rectify this situation as otherwise we will become hostage to special interests of one particular party.

Given all the jockeys and the horses for the prized job of PM, the likely outcome is still uncertain but the hard fact remains that in entering into serious dialogue with each other all the Parties have had to abandon some of their fixed premises. That is a major plus point which the long-suffering electorate has managed inadvertently for the future stability and prosperity of Pakistan.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).

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