Categorized | South Asian Politics

Pakistani PM should seek compromise with opposition

Posted on 29 June 2016 by admin

  Dr. Hasan Askari

 All agree that Pakistan must have a democratic political order. However, democracy implies not only the holding of free and fair election but also the fulfillment of other conditions.

 Democracy calls for establishing functioning institutions and processes that are relevant to problem solving, constitutionalism, an egalitarian socio-economic order, delivery of basic services and security to citizens, a minimum consensus for working harmoniously between the government and the opposition, and a check on corruption and nepotism in government.

 Democracy in Pakistan does not fulfill most of these conditions. Democratic institutions are being sidelined because of personalized governance. Loyalty to the chief is more important than professionalism and competence. The distribution of state patronage on political considerations and a tolerance for corruption in government has created personalized loyalty for the PMLN in the Punjab.

 The federal cabinet has lost its importance as a policy-making agency. It has not met on a regular basis in 2016 and matters are settled through informal interaction with a few select PMLN leaders. The fate of the parliament, especially the National Assembly is not very different. The two houses have lost a part of their salience because the prime minister hardly attends the meetings. The cabinet members are often absent. The members showed little interest in the budget debate in the National Assembly earlier this month; there was a serious problem of maintaining the quorum.

 The prime minister is out of the country for medical reasons for over a month. Ishaq Dar and a small groups of his associates are looking after the state affairs. There is no constitutional provision for such a substitution of the prime Minister. By pursuing an extra-constitutional strategy, the PMLN has exposed the redundancy of the office of prime minister and that a group of political elite and the top bureaucrats can run the state. Unless some constitutional amendment is made to cover up this gap, it has created a precedent that can be employed by others.

 The PMLN government appears to be satisfied with the economy, as demonstrated by the statements of the Finance Minister in connection with the budget. This optimism is not shared by those not belonging to the ruling party. The Finance Minister appears so confident of the economic options available to people that he suggested that the people should east chicken if they could not buy “Dal”. What about those who do not resources to buy chicken?

 The major threat to the democratic political order is the overconfidence of the ruling party at the federal level and the desperation of the opposition. The PMLN and especially the political team around the prime minister is convinced that the government is secure and the opposition has no popular support and that it comprises some rootless power-seekers, who cannot stall the PMLN’s march towards a successful completion of the term of office and then a victory in the next general elections.

 The PMLN needs to adopt a more realistic approach towards what is happening outside the ruling circles. They should not deny the widespread alienation that has developed outside the ruling circles. The stalemate between the government and the opposition will not help the government to stay peacefully in office. If the PTI, the PPP and Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri join together to challenge the government in the streets of Lahore and other cities of Punjab, this can cause instability and uncertainty about the future direction of politics.

 If the joint opposition street protest persisted for some time, other parties are likely to join them. This can also encourage the dissatisfied elements in the PMLN to shy away from supporting the current ruling group. The opposition parties appear to be opting for a final show-down with the PMLN because they feel that given the non-accommodating disposition of the government and the gradual strengthening of the house of the Sharif and its beneficiaries, it may be their last chance to stay in the game of politics.

 After the return of the prime minister to Pakistan, the ruling PMLN can deal with the internal political situation through different strategies. It may continue to live under the perception that everything is excellent and that the opposition lacks the capacity to take them on. It means no flexibility or accommodation towards the opposition on any issue. Treat their agitation as a law and order issue.

 A compromise on some issues with the opposition is another option. However, such a compromise formula can work only if such an offer is made in the initial stages of the protest. The compromise could be on investigation about the Panama Leaks. However, this can drag the prime minister in a major political crisis.

 The prime minister undertakes a major change in his cabinet by bringing in professional people and those more acceptable to the opposition. Another option would be an in-house change of leadership. Nawaz Sharif decides to quit as prime minister and appoints a person from his party in consultation with some people outside of his party. New PM should not be form the House of Sharif. Nawaz Sharif can exercise his leadership from the outside because he will continue to be the main vote puller for the PMLN.

 The best option is to first seek political accommodation with the opposition. If this does not work out the prime minister should opt for new elections before the end of 2016. If he can renew his mandate, he will overcome most of his current problems.

 The political events are expected to move fast in the near future. At the moment the initiative is with the prime minister. This initiative can slip out of his hands if the current problems are not dealt with immediately.

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