Politics in Punjab

Daily: Pakistan Observer
Date: 03.12.08

Symptomatically, the issue of introducing another amendment to the Constitution has been
put on the back burner. The President, Asif Ali Zardari, intends to keep enjoying all the
powers bequeathed to him through the 17th Constitutional Amendment including the power
of invoking Article 58 (2b) – considered detrimental to a parliamentary system – to dissolve
the Parliament.

Whether or not the issue of the next probable constitutional amendment has been
postponed is yet unknown. It is, however, vividly clear that self-reduction of his position to a
mere figure-head seems not Zardari’s choice at the moment. But the lackadaisical
approach of Zardari in shedding certain powers – to demonstrate independence of the
Parliament – appears to be an offence in the sight of several political parties, especially the
PML-N. In a recently held meeting, Nawaz Sharif conveyed his disquiet to Zardari on the
issue of retention of the powers on withholding of which the former President, General
Pervaiz Musharraf, had been criticized by the political parties of the country including the
PPP. What is the difference between the status and role of the former president and the
incumbent one is the question rankling in the minds of many? The same point has been
making everyone conclude that the current political set-up is a sequel to its predecessor
arrangement – existing with the change of face only.

In disunity between the PPP and the PML-N lies the lifeline of the PML-Q for survival. The
stalwarts of the PML-Q, who used to pronounce getting Musharraf elected as the president
of the country for perhaps ten times, have been struggling to obviate disintegration of the
party. The outsiders to the PML-Q still believe that regression of the PML-Q to its original
size is predestined, as a medley of the politicians harbouring irreconcilable aspirations
cannot last long: the incompatible assortment is bound to fall apart. To chagrin of the
members of the PML-Q, the common-friend factor has vanished with departure of
Musharraf from the political arena; nevertheless, one hope of the PML-Q is still alive:
occurrence of the mid-term elections if the incumbent government stumbles gravely on the
political and economic fronts. On the political front, at least, some surmise a possibility of a
head-on collision of the PPP with the PML-N in Punjab.

Patently, there are cropping up certain differences between the PPP and the PML-N on
certain issues ranging from administration of the province to availability of the political
space in Punjab. The Commissioner system enfolds potential to hold the public
representatives at the local body level answerable to the bureaucrats. The system is a first
and direct assault on the idea of devolution of power envisioned in the recent past.

To find the political space for the PPP, the Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, was the
front-man who recently launched an offensive but later on rendered to be a scapegoat (the
role which Taseer accepted without scruples), when the recently held meeting between
Zardari and Nawaz scotched rumours of collision between the two parties on the space-
finding issue.

Nevertheless, the damage was done. In Punjab, there took place an exchange of riposte
between Taseer of the PPP, as a Governor, and Sanaullah of the PML-N, as a Law
Minister. In fact, Sanaullah recriminated against Taseer on behalf of Shahbaz Sharif, the
Chief Minister of Punjab. Further, slurs were also cast on Taseer offending his
susceptibilities and consequently leaving him speechless and defenceless. Indubitably, the
matter implies the gravity of the situation and envisages thereby a much bigger action –
and reaction – next time from both sides. The lull prevailing is ephemeral: it is just a respite
for reassessing one’s strength and other’s weaknesses before the Armageddon begins.

Apparently, the PML-Q has been facing the problems of settling the differences arising over
the presidency of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain. The dissenting members headed by Hamid
Nasir Chattha washed the dirty linen in the public thereby violating the constitution of the
party which called for discussion on any disagreement at an intra-party forum and not in the
media. Quintessentially, the bifurcation in the ranks of the PML-Q hinges on the presence
of the differences surfacing between the PPP and the PML-N: in dissent between the PPP
and PML-N lies the life-line of the PML-Q. Chattha is either raring to supplant Chaudhry
Shujaat as the party head or intending to entice an already-formed splinter group of the
PML-Q into joining either the PPP or the PML-N. None the less, a message has been
conveyed to Chattha that no ruse is possible to leave the PML-Q high and dry in presence
of the constitution of the party.

The PML-Q is generally a party of the land-owning class in quest of finding the sole aim of
enjoying power. As soon as the aim dissipates, the unity of the PML-Q is at stake. The
same is the case now. The post-election doomsday scenario is difficult to bear by the PML-
Q as it has to wait for the end of the term of the present assemblies spanning five years.
The exercise of patience is unprecedented whenever the stalwarts of the PML-Q are out of
the corridors of power. The added tragedy is that the disappointing electoral results
mocked the aspirations of Chaudhry Pervaiz Illahi to become the prime minister of Pakistan;
he even could not qualify to become the chief minister of Punjab.

The PML-Q is also facing another dilemma: relapse into silence due to the powerlessness,
besides the consequent absence from the media, is giving birth to in fights. But this is not
the end of the story. The PML-Q is still smarting from the defeat in the past elections to
which the party has not yet reconciled itself. The PML-Q has yet to redeem itself in the eyes
of the masses by purging itself from the pro-dictatorship allegations owing to which the
party was not recompensed on the electoral day for the public works it performed during its
five year unchallenged tenure.

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