First, there was the NAB flurry about getting the Sharifs cornered in the accountability courts as tit for tat for the savage rhetoric let loose by them against the ‘corrupt’ PPP government. Then, there was the speculation that the two parties might come together in deciding the date of the next election and a political strategy of how to cope with it, given the rising tsunami of Imran Khan. There was also talk of the PML-N getting its perspective right on the judiciary, making it more realistic as the world complained about ‘lack of restraint’ on the part of judges now getting used to firing prime ministers.
A caretaker government as the institution that will conduct the next election headed by a neutral prime minister plus cabinet has always aroused suspicion about the fabled ability of President Asif Ali Zardari to subvert persons and institutions in his party’s favour. It was expected that there will be a battle royale over the issue after the election is announced. Bickering over judges’ appointment between the two parties has already resulted in the transfer of authority of induction to the Chief Justice of Pakistan. Will more bickering denude the parties further of their legitimate powers? This must weigh upon the minds of the politicians on both sides. Will they do something about it?
Speculations started brewing in Islamabad. ‘Credible sources’ said that the ruling PPP and the PML-N were close to ‘working out a deal that would result in both naming a consensus caretaker prime minister and finalisation of a date for election to be held before the end of the year’. Two persons were named, both unlikely: human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir and Pakistan’s UN envoy Abdullah Hussain Haroon. The choice of Ms Jahangir would clearly have been a message to an ‘excessive’ Supreme Court, while Mr Haroon would have been suspect because of his connection to President Zardari. Rumours began to circulate about a joint PML-N-PPP stance vis-à-vis the judiciary in favour of parliamentary supremacy.
Soon enough, the PML-N denied proposing Ms Jahangir or Mr Haroon for the slot of caretaker prime minister and termed the news a baseless rumour. It actually blamed the PPP for floating the story to malign the PML-N in the eyes of its supporters and said that ‘when the time comes to choose caretakers it will consult all the opposition parties including the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’. Alas, last time it did so in the case of Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G Ebrahim as Chief Election Commissioner, it was slightly put off by the 84-year-old’s remark that only two elections had been held fairly in the past and in both cases, the PPP was returned to power. To be fair, he also criticised the PPP’s decision to push through a change of rules of contempt of court through a legislation. People started recommending that maybe Pakistan should follow India and Bangladesh on the rules regarding an election commissioner’s age. The catch here is that if the PPP and the PML-N fail to jointly choose a caretaker government, then Mr Ebrahim will get to appoint one under the 20th Amendment.
Whatever may be the outcome of these speculations, the truth is that both parties feel threatened by ‘third parties’. The judiciary is increasingly relying on its street power and Imran Khan, appearing unmindful of the sensitivities of the PML-N when declaring that parliament was no longer supreme. The Court was possibly leaning on judicial memory of what the PML-N had done to the Sajjad Ali Shah Court. The other growingly threatening factor is the rise of Imran Khan as the leader who beats the ideologues of the PML-N on slogans of change. The ‘wave’ he might create with his radical message behind an ‘Islamic welfare state’ will cut into the vote bank of the PML-N as the PPP shrinks in Punjab.
The threat of Imran Khan as he sallies forth into Waziristan with one lakh supporters should shine some light in the dark corners of the mindset that empowers other institutions and parties by cutting the ground from under the bipartisan system Pakistan has enjoyed for the past 20 years.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2012.
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