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Power game

February 28, 2013

THE season of political alliances and seat adjustments is almost in full swing. Leading the way is the PML-N, confident of its chances of success in Punjab but having a minimal footprint outside the province. Being a one-province party — or just a GT Road party to its critics — isn’t good for a party that hopes to form the next federal government, so the PML-N has been casting a wide net to find allies unable to adjust into the PPP camp. The non-PPP bloc in Sindh, Fazlur Rehman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and sundry other smaller political forces in Punjab and Balochistan are being roped in to present a ‘national face’. It’s not just the PML-N that has been busy: the PPP, ANP and MQM, all part of the ruling alliance at the centre, have been laying their own electoral groundwork ahead of what is shaping up as an intensely competitive general election in which razor-thin margins could be the difference between sitting on treasury or opposition benches.

To the extent that coalition politics has become the new normal in Pakistan, adjustments and alliances between political parties are a necessary feature, and perhaps even desirable. Given the kinds of reforms that the next governments will necessarily have to attempt to push through by force of circumstances, the art of negotiating and hard bargaining will have to be mastered by all, perhaps even more so than the Asif Zardari-led PPP has demonstrated over the past five years. Unhappily, though, little of the present manoeuvring appears to be rooted in anything more than a potential division of the spoils after the election. The PML-N, centre-right in character, has natural allies on the political and religious right, but none of them appear ready to work together to address the serious challenges that militancy and extremism pose. Power for power’s sake, an end not a means — that is a recipe for more trouble, not less. Just as unhappily, the manoeuvring and bargaining will only get more frenetic from here, with everyone waiting for the assemblies to be dissolved before making a pitch for one another’s candidates.