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PPP braces for the worst amid sense of foreboding

July 12, 2012

kaira-aitzaz-AFP670
PPP leader and Yousuf Raza Gilani’s lawyer in the contempt of court case Aitzaz Ahsan leaves the Supreme Court building along with Qamar Zaman Kaira (top R) and Nayyar Bukhari (L) in Islamabad, Feb 2, 2012. — Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD, July 11: The federal capital is a place where rumours and instability rule the roost and democratic stability is but an interlude in between.

And these days, rumours of democracy being derailed are once again doing the rounds. The reason, as in so many crises in the past four years, is an impending executive-judiciary clash.

Today the Supreme Court is going to hear from the new prime minister whether or not he is going to write a letter to Swiss courts to reopen graft cases against President Asif Zardari. The refusal by former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to do so cost him his seat and probably his political career.

Although it is still not clear what Raja Pervez Ashraf will say today, the government has already made its intentions clear.

It is all set to turn its new contempt of court bill into law — the Senate passed it late on Wednesday night.

Obviously the government is ready for a confrontation.

As a federal minister of the PPP said: “In the given circumstances this was the only option left for the party.”

What can the judiciary expect from the PPP in response to its decision about Gilani?, asked the cabinet member, adding that the legislation had been drafted after detailed discussions at the leadership level.

“We know, later or sooner the SC will strike it down. So what? Let the judges, once again, undermine the supremacy of parliament,” the minister said in reply to a question.

Another PPP source said the party was in no mood to hold early elections or to write the letter to the Swiss authorities against the president.

Although the mood on the other side is less public, legal experts don’t think the law will be allowed to last.

Even PPP stalwarts Raza Rabbani and Aitzaz Ahsan criticised the legislation during the debate in the Senate.

If a confrontation ensues, observers argue, the judiciary may send Ashraf home and then getting elected a third prime minister may not be very easy for the PPP.

Will this then lead to fresh elections?

Yes, say many people. While others argue that the next caretaker government may not come into power for a mere three-month period. It will be there for longer, goes the gloomy prediction.

It is this scenario that is behind the rumours and panic that has pervaded the PPP camp.

And neither is this nervousness a secret. On a talk show on Wednesday night, PPP cabinet member Nazar Mohammad Gondal said his party feared a “shabkhoon”. The topic of the discussion was whether or not the elections could be delayed indefinitely.

The PML-N also buys into the theory that unless the main political parties make a concerted effort to cooperate, all will fall apart.

A PML-N office-bearer told Dawn that only an agreement between the PPP and PML-N could guarantee a smooth transition towards the next elected government.

“If the PPP government and judiciary keep on a collision course, somebody will take advantage of the situation,” he added.

Speaking on the basis of anonymity, he said his party was wary of pushing the PPP to hold early elections because it feared the rising popularity of the PTI, losing its government in Punjab, and helping create instability which might wrap up democracy.

Indeed the capital is simmering with such conspiracy theories, mostly unsubstantiated, which all begin with the wrapping up of the current set-up.

From then on, the path and the destination can range from the good, bad to the ugly.

But what are the possible options available and how realistic are they?

Possible case scenario No 1 (the good): The PPP and the PML-N agree on a date for general elections and start negotiations over the caretaker set-up.

Continuing with the goodwill both parties exhibited that led to the selection of the new CEC, they also find a suitable and impartial candidate to lead the caretaker set-up as prime minister. Fair elections are held early next year and power is handed over to the winning party.

However, for this to happen, not only will the PPP and the PML-N have to play ball, but the judiciary and the establishment will also have to realise and understand the need for a democratic transition.

The SC will have to appreciate the need to let the PPP be — even if the former does it just to stave off more criticism that has been directed at it since it sent Gilani home. Or it will have to consider a view that already exists in the military establishment that it is better to let the PPP government run its course than be sent home early and be given another chance to become political martyrs.There is also a third path that can lead to this option — that even if the second prime minister is sent home, the PML-Q, the ANP and the MQM stand by the PPP to elect a third one. However, very few people believe the PPP can be a third time lucky.

Possible case scenario No 2 (the bad): The SC sends PM Raja Pervez Ashraf packing in the NRO implementation case, and the PPP realises it can no longer continue to run the government. It then throws in the towel and negotiates to bring in a caretaker set-up ahead of completing its term. After some give and take, the two main parties still manage to put in place a mutually agreed caretaker set-up that would then go ahead with elections.

Possible case scenario No 3 (the ugly): The executive-judiciary standoff plus a lack of cooperation between the PML-N and PPP leads to a power vacuum.

A new caretaker set-up is brought in — though legally this set-up will be chosen by the new CEC, conspiracy theorists are clear that the choice would be made by the military establishment. How Fakhruddin Ebrahim will be persuaded to accept this is not clear. Soon after the new caretaker set-up takes charge, the theory goes, a writ petition can argue that the caretaker government needs to be prolonged, keeping in mind the poor security situation as well as the terrible economic conditions. This set-up, it is then said, will continue for some time — be it years or months. In fact, some people go so far as to propose that the recent re-emergence of terrorist activities and an aggressive protest campaign by the Difa-i-Pakistan Council can also create a security situation which can be used to justify such an ‘emergency’.

But it is not clear which political party will support such an outcome. Although some fingers are pointed at PTI, there is no clear indication that the party will agree to such a role.

Similarly, skeptics point out that such a scenario will force the PPP and the PML-N out on the streets along with others. We may end up with a scenario similar to November 2007 when an emergency was imposed but it proved difficult to sustain.

But the court proceedings today may help make the future more clear and help indicate which of these scenarios will come into play.