COALITION governments are by their very nature messy businesses: junior partners demand their pound of flesh at every turn; pushing through serious reforms is a fraught affair; and the senior coalition partner is stuck walking a tightrope between the legitimate demands of the public and the not-so-legitimate demands of its coalition partners. Having said that, coalitions can and do deliver governance and policies when there is the political will. Unhappily for Pakistan, a new prime minister and a new cabinet have not translated into an iota of political will to try and right the ship of governance and give it any forward momentum. With the addition of 15 new ministers from the PML-Q on Monday, the federal cabinet is within touching distance of the bloated Gilani cabinet. Numbers only tell a part of the story: scroll through the list of cabinet members and their portfolios and there is a distinct sense that merit and aptitude were non-factors in selecting which minister will handle which portfolio. Expecting a coalition disastrously unconcerned with matters of governance for over four years to become a paragon of good governance overnight was perhaps too much. Then again, with a general election around the corner and the country wracked by crises on the economic, security and political fronts, there was some hope that more attention would be paid to delivering on governance promises.
Of course, the motive behind the PPP’s capitulation to the PML-Q’s demands is fairly obvious. In a patronage-driven electoral system where good governance is often a distant concern, the PPP is calculating that the PML-Q parliamentarians elevated to ministerial status will be able to leverage their clout inside the state system to defeat their opponents at the next election. And with Punjab set to be a crucial battleground, the more soldiers on the field the PPP-Q League combine has at the next election, the better its chances of securing re-election. It’s an approach borne out of a paucity of imagination. Arguably, a more competent cabinet in the final stretch would deliver more votes come election time than a patronage system being squeezed for another few drops of support.