The only thing certain before the upcoming elections is that neither of the two major parties, the PPP and the PML-N, will be able to secure an outright majority in the National Assembly. This gives smaller parties like the PTI, the PML-Q, the ANP and the MQM outsized importance in the formation of the next government. And the latter of those parties have added an extra wrinkle to the wheeling and dealing that is sure to accompany election campaigning. The MQM was seen as a reliable, if demanding, coalition partner for the PPP and that view was strengthened by an agreement by the two parties over holding local body elections. But now the MQM is also holding talks with the PML-N to discuss a possible pre- and post-election alliance.
The most likely explanation for this flirtation with the PML-N is that the MQM is trying to extract further concessions from the PPP. The agreement on local governments is not entirely to the MQM’s liking since it does not give control of the district police to the city government, a power which, if granted to the party, would add even more heft to its ironclad control of Karachi. If the PPP thinks there is a possibility that the MQM might bolt, it would be more likely to hand the party what it wants on a platter. In the past, too, the MQM has held measures like fuel price increases hostage as a condition of staying in government.
Although the MQM has now become a wild card, the other coalition partners — the ANP and the PML-Q — seem likely to stick around after the next elections. The only other party which is up for grabs is the PTI. So far, Imran Khan has steadfastly refused to countenance any thought of an alliance with either of the two major parties but may have to compromise if he wants to translate popularity into political influence. Ideologically, he shares more in common with the PML-N but seems to have a personal disdain for Nawaz Sharif. The next few months will be as crucial as the voting itself for the formation of a new government.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2012.
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