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The government that wouldn’t fall

Published May 06, 2012 12:15am


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WITH all the paper and crayons the PML-N carried to parliament the past week, you’d think a Leaguer or two could have spared some time to write a little letter.

Dear Madam Speaker, The PML-N believes that a question has arisen that Yousuf Raza Gilani stands disqualified as a member of parliament under Article 63(1)(g) of the constitution for bringing the judiciary into ridicule as stated by the Supreme Court in its conviction of Mr Gilani for contempt of court on Thursday, April 26, 2012.

Accordingly, under Article 63(2) of the constitution it is required of you as Speaker of the National Assembly to forward the question of Mr Gilani’s disqualification to the Election Commission of Pakistan for a final decision.

With kind regards, The PML-N.

A letter short enough to be written with a crayon on the back of a protest placard and handed over to the Speaker during one of the PML-N’s noisy protests on the floor of the National Assembly.

A letter that would have triggered the only constitutional process for declaring Gilani disqualified.

But in seven days of protests until the Assembly session was prorogued Friday, the N-League avoided the legal route and demanded Gilani’s resignation instead.

Behind that choice lies a political calculation.

Take the legal route and the N-League risks its anti-PPP message being buried under an avalanche of legalese. The technicalities of Article 63 — can the Speaker decide no question of disqualification has arisen? If so, is there any appeal against the Speaker’s decision? Wouldn’t the matter ultimately return to the Supreme Court for an inconclusive answer? — are confounding.

Better a simpler message that the electorate can understand: the prime minister is a convict, his boss is corrupt, the Supreme Court tried to do the right thing; ergo, the prime minister should resign.

However, catchy as the slogans may be and fun as charged-up rallies will be, they also betray the opposition’s impotence.

This was originally a fight between the PPP and the SC; the PML-N are Johnny-come-latelies. Once the court baulked at pulling the trigger, the N-League’s ability to force the very outcome the court wasn’t willing to force was always going to be limited.

The reality is that the fundamentals that have been in place since 2009 have not changed. And until those system fundamentals change, regime change isn’t going to happen.

Think of it this way. At the centre is the PPP, surviving through a combination of unexpected political acumen — Zardari the political maestro, anyone? Gilani the heroic defender? — and luck.

The luck is that surrounding the PPP, as with every other civilian government, are three traditional rivals — the political opposition, the judiciary and the army — who can agree that they don’t like the PPP but can’t quite bring themselves to work in concert to attain the desired outcome.

For reasons of history and politics and systems, to engineer the downfall of a government you need at least two of the three forces opposing the government to align. PPP conspiracy theories aside, this time that combination just refuses to emerge.

With memogate there was, briefly, an almost perfect alignment. The army raised the alarm over Haqqani’s alleged antics, Sharif petitioned the court to take notice, the court swung into action, drawing out the blunt affidavits from the army chief and DG ISI and just like that, everyone seemed poised to plunge the knife into the PPP.

But then Sharif pulled back. He realised that he’d been lured into a trap to make an army vs PPP fight look like a PPP vs everyone scrap. Next, the army relented when the PPP refused to budge and another chapter in their frenemy relationship had been inked.

The court was the one which had formally gone the furthest, setting up a high-powered commission to investigate the silliness that was Mansoor Ijaz and his claims, so it’s taken the longest to extract itself from a battle that its fleeting allies have long since abandoned.

For all their dislike of the PPP, the problem is that the presumptive allies are also suspicious of each other. Nothing new there but it tends to get forgotten each time a political crisis erupts.

Nawaz doesn’t like the army, the army doesn’t trust Nawaz, neither would want a judiciary that would make life difficult for them if they have to run the show and the judiciary knows that when push comes to shove, it’s usually the judiciary that’s trampled underfoot.

Unwilling to trust one another as they close in on their prey, the would-be troika of opponents has also encountered unexpected canniness from its prey.

For one, Zardari’s willingness to share the spoils tends to sow confusion in the enemies’ ranks.

The army doesn’t like him and thinks he presides over a monumentally corrupt and incompetent government. But then he gives them whatever they want: pay raises, budget hikes, foreign and national security policies and even unprecedented extensions.

With the court, he allowed the 19th Amendment, giving them the judges they want, and doesn’t resort to unleashing Babar Awan or Irfan Qadir types unless he’s personally threatened.

With the opposition, he lets them snipe and complain, snarl and yelp as much as they like and for the most part doesn’t interfere in their way of doing things. There’s enough for everyone to share, is Zardari’s message.

And when things heat up, as they invariably do, the PPP has found unexpected heroes. Gilani defiantly stood up to the army over memogate and threw himself in the court’s way as it tried to get the Swiss letter written, confusing and confounding the PPP’s opponents.

Chtuzpah, luck and wiles — it’s been a winning formula for the PPP so far. And nothing the PML-N can do at this stage looks set to upset that winning formula.

The writer is a member of staff.

twitter: @cyalm


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (28) Closed

Usman Ghani May 06, 2012 05:06pm
Beautifully written though shows little bias towards PPP.
Khalid Mahmood May 06, 2012 07:05am
It is a very sophisticated analysis which makes the maze of current Pakistan politics much easy to understand. One rarely sees such comprehensive, accurate, and brilliant piece.
Jalbani Baloch May 06, 2012 08:36am
Patience is the only way to the solution of all crisis in the country. The government has come through vote of people with a mandate of five years, of which, it has completed more than four years, the opposition and other willing to wield-power, must wait for elections. Last night, Shahzad Roy, a famous Pakistan singer was shown together with Wasu Baloch, who was from a very far-flung area, on a private TV. Wasu Baloch was asked a question by the host to shed light on Pakistani politics, and his reply was that, once elections are held, the govt. should be allowed to continue and the opposition should wait for its return. He said, he has never heard anything such thing for change of govts. in India, which has taken birth together with us in 1947. I think there is a lesson for our understanding, if we need to understand.
observer May 06, 2012 07:52am
A politician by definition is a believer in the art of the possible. In addition the politician is always interested in enhancing his constituency i.e. getting people on his side. That, precisely is what President Zardari is doing. Since much of the time Pakistan has not seen a politician in action, they feel awkward about it. Don't worry, as the political process takes deeper roots you will get used to this way of Governance as opposed to Governance by fiat and patronage, which is the hallmark of non-representative governments.
Jiyaloo Khan May 06, 2012 08:17am
Nice one! jee.
Khaled May 06, 2012 03:38pm
Very good analysis, keep it up
Lajwar May 06, 2012 08:09am
Kudos to Mr Almeida for writing such a crisp and vivid article. May your clarity of thought and expression prevail.
Arshad Patel,USA May 06, 2012 05:26pm
Time to analyze, who is not corrupt ? Both PPP and PML-N were removed from the government for corruption. Now also each one is blaming other for the same. God Bless Pakistan.
A Vetta May 06, 2012 12:53pm
Odd suggestion, it would be inappropriate for a third party to get involved in the direct line between the Supreme Court (SC) and the Speaker on a ruling of the SC. A third party, if it is led sensibly, should evolve its own route to support the SC and two parties appear to be doing that.
Irfan Husain May 06, 2012 09:54am
Excellent analysis, as usual.
Harish bhai- UK May 06, 2012 09:03am
Well written and a lesson for all those who want a change to take place but do not know what is holding it up.
Khalq e Khuda May 06, 2012 03:08pm
A rare piece of quality journalism by Mr Almeida!
W. Malik May 06, 2012 12:31pm
The column very correctly implies the wiliness, shrewdness and Machiavellian trait of Zardari. Although, sadly it is all at the expense of good governance.
Cyrus Howell May 06, 2012 05:40pm
In politics the conspiracies are real ones.
S.B May 06, 2012 09:58am
political analysis at its best... hats off to Almeida!!!
Maarij Syed May 06, 2012 09:45pm
I would urge CA to write a book (even compiled articles) about the way real politics woks in Pakistan. It would be a good companion text to "Pakistan, a hard country" where the author, Anatol Leiven, tries to provide a framework for thinking about Pakistan and its issues. Cyril also does a great job of establishing a framework that is rational and is not based on emotional nonsense and platitudes. Whether you agree with the entire framework or not, is besides the point. What I like about his writing is that it leads to structured thinking.
Cyrus Howell May 06, 2012 05:38pm
Zeeshan May 07, 2012 01:30pm
Pakistanis are politically quite vibrant; I don't think they will ever fully get used to Machiavellian politics. So, as the democratic political process takes deeper roots things will get better over time.
NASAH (USA) May 07, 2012 01:50pm
Besides, if Nawaz Sharif takes over the government from the hands of Mr. Gilani for being a 'convict' -- wont it be a convict replaced by another 'convict'?
NASAH (USA) May 06, 2012 05:21pm
Take your time:)
Munir Khokhar May 06, 2012 03:15am
wounderfull analysis . "the court of people " formula seems to work as the PML is not working propely . they have no thought how to take advantage of the situation.
Dr V. C. Bhutani May 06, 2012 11:40am
I agree with the earlier two comments. This is a crisp and delicious piece of writing. It says everything that needed to be said and does this in a highly entertaining manner. Only, no one comes out with credit – except the author. V. C. Bhutani, Delhi, India, 6 May 2012, 1710 IST
afzal-khan May 06, 2012 03:51am
Nice column.Gilani is really the hero as he is gravelly facing the conspiracies hatched by his opponents.
faiza bhatt May 06, 2012 01:43pm
Almeida has unnecessarily gone into so much detail trying to figure out various alliances and enmities. the relationships are much more simpler than that. it is corrupt politicians, men in uniform and people from establishment on one side and those asking for accountability on the other. it is as simple as that. PPP, ANP, MQM, PML N and military men like Kiyani will always be on one side, because a corruption free system will make them accountable to the common Pakistanis.
ahmad May 06, 2012 01:45pm
The article is really enjoyable, most importantly un-biased.
khurram khalid May 06, 2012 10:57am
A good one!
Khalid Mahmood May 06, 2012 01:42pm
This article is refreshing as it raises the Daily Dawn’s level of objectivity!
@IAgnikul May 06, 2012 05:32am
I, a very ordinary citizen, do not like the PPP either. But then neither do I wholeheartedly like the Army, the PMLN or even the judicial establishment.