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Tuesday, 27 January 2009

PML-N, Nawaz Sharif, make a choice. Parliament? or Street Politics... - By Nazir Naji

Nazir Naji
(Daily Jang)

A threat of mid-term elections?

Looking at the intense war of statements between the ruling PPP and the PMLN, many observers are speculating that a “mid-term” election could be on the cards. For some reason, 2010 is the year when the PPP is supposed to bow out of power and yield elections. How this will be done is not clear in anybody’s mind. The media is hostile to the PPP government, and people brought under pressure by the economic crisis in the country are open to the possibility. Yet the political calculus in Parliament doesn’t indicate any mid-term change in Pakistan. In fact, there is evidence that the PPP will consolidate itself in power after March this year.

But for the same reason, March this year is also more realistic as the moment of possible political crisis in Pakistan than the year 2010. A part of the Senate will be up for election and the PPP is bound to increase its standing in the upper house, given the current strength of the parties. The lawyers’ movement, through its Long March, promises to prevent the PPP from achieving this. The Long March this time is supposed to be decisive in the intensity of its “dharna” in Islamabad. But judging from the weak “build-up” the movement received this weekend in Lahore, it hardly looks promising from the anti-PPP point of view. The political parties, including the ruling party in Lahore, the PMLN, were not able to manage the kind of show of strength needed for “toppling” the government in Islamabad through overwhelming street power. If anything, the blocking of the city’s traffic actually alienated many among the citizens from the movement.

Speculation is rife about the intentions of the PMLN. “Experts” say Mr Nawaz Sharif is not interested in destabilising the PPP government just yet but wants it to go in 2010 nonetheless. This doesn’t stand to reason. What will happen in 2010 that will be more dangerous for the PPP than the occasion of the Senate elections in 2009? Is the PMLN counting on the army to unseat the PPP through a martial law since Article 58-2(b) will either not be there or will be exercisable only by a PPP president? And if the army doesn’t do it, will another “dharna” by the lawyers’ movement do the trick? Nothing looks likely beyond 2009.

The PPP is moving adroitly in the direction of improving its position in Parliament. The MQM has been cajoled to join the coalition in Islamabad formally and get its ministers inducted in the cabinet expansion coming up shortly. It is the fourth largest grouping in the National Assembly and figures meaningfully in the electoral collegium for the Senate too. President Asif Zardari and Mr Altaf Hussain have also reached an agreement on the sharing of power in Sindh and the stage is set for the avoidance of cutting each other’s support for their Senatorial candidates.

On the other hand, the move to get the PMLN and the PMLQ to merge to prevent the undercutting of their Senatorial candidates has failed. The PMLN wants to go it alone, and it is not clear how it will fulfil its plan — if there is one — to cause the mid-term elections to take place in 2010. If the device is a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly, one should forget that it will happen any time during the current term of government. The PMLQ, however, is convinced that five years is too much for a government to eke out in power and has proposed in its draft 18th Amendment that the term of the National Assembly be curtailed to four years. Why four years and why not just two years? At least that is what some people say the opposition is aiming at as it plans to topple the government in 2010. (Daily Times)

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