Thanks to nonstop watching of perennial absurdities and either/or battles that dominate our political scene, most of us have turned into compulsive kibitzers. Little wonder, that instead of discussing the possible contours of the about-to-be-unfolded budget, most journalists huddled in the press lounge Friday afternoon kept stretching their imagination to foresee the intensity of the disruptive show that the PML-N had vowed to put up during the finance minister’s speech.
Dr Hafeez Sheikh was scheduled to start his speech at 5 pm, but he and the Prime Minister were exactly an hour late. Since morning, they had been stuck at an unusually prolonged cabinet meeting that was held in a committee room of the Parliament House.
Most ministers clearly expressed anger and dislike when the budgetary proposals were shared with them. They seriously believed that these proposals would not help them in returning to the National Assembly in an ‘election year.’ Unbearably desperate, they also demanded a substantive package of economic initiatives and measures that they could sell to their constituents as poor-friendly. Eventually, it all came down to devising some gimmick-driven formulae that furnished ‘alleviating looks’ for the proposed budget and most of the discussion in this regard stayed focused on how to appear ‘sensitive and caring’ to salaried classes, especially those working for the government.
While the vocal cabinet members pressed for their demands, Syed Khurshid Shah kept phoning and meeting with some of the lead stars of the PML-N. As a cool regulator of the parliamentary business, he was specially assigned by the prime minister to reach some understanding with the opposition.
Initially, PML-N representatives kept telling the wily Syed from Sukkur that come what may they would not let the “convicted prime minister enter the house, forget listening to the budget speech by staging a token protest.” Finally, disregarding his reputation of being friends-to-all, Khurshid Shah firmly conveyed it to the PML-N that if their disruptive show crossed some agreed limits, the PPP members of the Punjab Assembly would do everything to ensure that the Shahbaz-government confronted absolute chaos when it presented the provincial budget next week.
He also conveyed to the PML-N that Gilani had to go for a fresh election after presentation of his fifth budget anyway. And if his finance minister was not allowed to deliver the budget speech the PPP legislators, with whatever the numerical strength in the next assembly, would never allow the future prime minister to speak even for a minute in the house. The bluff appeared to have worked in the end. There were scuffles and many rowdy scenes for sure; yet their potency was not as strong, shocking and spirited as one had anticipated.
Recalling the disruptive shows that Ghulam Ishaq Khan and the successive presidents after him had endured during their annual addresses to a joint parliamentary sitting, the show put up by the PML-N Friday looked rather tame and mostly lacking vigour. Perhaps the PML-N agitators also lost heart for another reason.
Early this week one of their colleagues, Senator Zafar Ali Shah, had posted a petition to the Supreme Court. Through the same he pleaded the apex court to prevent “the finance minister of a convicted prime minister” from presenting the budget for 2012-3. The PML-N hawks were sounding very confident in telling us since then that the Supreme Court might oblige their senator. Yet, no judicial intervention came to their help.
There also are credible rumours claiming that notwithstanding the tough public posturing, both the PML-N and PPP have almost reached “some understanding regarding the dates for holding the next general election and ways and means to go about them.” So far no credible source could confirm the said rumour. One thing is pretty obvious, however: President Zardari is determined to go for the next elections “after resolving the issue of energy crisis for good.” It is with the same objective that he decided to recommend the shifting of his old friend and confidant, Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar, to the ministry of water and power after presiding over an exhaustive briefing on the energy crisis, held at his home in Karachi Thursday night. In this column, we had predicted the same switch many months ago. It didn’t happen until Thursday night and sources claim that the industrialist from Gujrat, Mukhtar, clearly wanted that before being moved to the ministry of water and power, he must be given a clear road map and appropriate authority to address the energy crisis. We were also told that our all-weather friends in China have also made some categorical promises to help Pakistan in resolving its energy crisis during some recent meetings between high level delegations of the two countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 2nd, 2012.
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