Stranger things have happened in Pakistan’s politics – yet, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s sudden rise to the highest office in the land has to rank right up there.
It is difficult to come up with reasons why the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) selected Ashraf in particular. Let us ditch the ambiguity: Not only does it make little political sense, it is the making of a miscalculation of potentially disastrous proportions.
Consider that the next general elections are, at most, less than a year away. One, if not the main, issue that will dominate the election campaign is the power crisis. Rightly or wrongly, Ashraf is the face of misgoverning in the power sector. For a public that remembers one-liners, his “load shedding will end by 2009” will reverberate not only during his tenure as premier, but past his potential disqualification, past even the caretaker set-up and well into the polls.
On the off-chance the public forgets, a rapacious media will ensure that they do remember.
Also, consider Ashraf’s constituency: Gujjar Khan, NA-51. Located along the GT Road, considered the stronghold of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), the region is a hotbed of discontent. If the PPP wants to make inroads into the area come the next polls, it just had to sit back while the provincial government of the PML-N took the blame for massive and prolonged power outages from a highly emotional and miserable public. For a sample, you have to go back just three days to the rioting in Rawalpindi, the district of which Gujjar Khan is a part, and other areas along this belt where public representatives’ houses are being attacked.
At worst, and despite the Punjab chief minister’s tactic of joining the protests, the blame would have been shared 50-50 – which still works in favour of the PPP electorally. Throw in the vote-cutting capacity of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf and the PML-Q, and the PPP could have been even looking at the possibility of forming the next government in Punjab thanks to their gains in the south.
Now, the PPP has entered the limelight in a region that is politically corrosive at the moment, where any sort of publicity will only evoke ire. In fact, this works in the PML-N’s favour, no matter how short a time he lasts.
Third: when and if you see him ousted once he refuses to write the Swiss letter, or if you see the charges against him in the rental power scandal rise again, the PPP will not garner any political sympathy. Will anyone feel sorry about the SC showing the door to a man many see as the sole cause of their primary woe: power outages? In fact, if anything, the SC and the ouster and/or haranguing will be celebrated.
In Yousaf Raza Gilani’s disqualification and Makhdoom Shahabuddin’s arrest warrants, the PPP had enough conspiratorial material to whip up a sympathy storm strong enough to see them select another prime minister in the aftermath of the next polls and keep President Asif Ali Zardari in office for another five years.
Ashraf’s entry has the potential of overshadowing this – at least in Punjab.
Then there is governance. I will not go to deep into this, because the chances are that Ashraf will not last very long.
Then there is the US. We are in the midst of crucial negotiations with Washington. We need a charismatic and credible front man, or one that is good at politicking. How seriously will he be taken if he is perceived to be a stop-gap arrangement, that too one that has no experience in this regard? Or if he is at constant risk of being on the Exit Control List (it happened before when he was meant to travel to China).
How about coalition building? Ashraf is not particularly liked by any of the PPP’s political allies. The MQM and the PML-Q are said to have initially taken exception to his candidature. He doesn’t get along with key ally in the opposition, JUI-F. In fact, going by the number of absent PPP MNAs, he isn’t particularly liked within his own party either.
Yes, stranger things have happened. But not always out of choice.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2012.
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