Big fat cabinet

When parliament should have demanded an explanation, all discussion centered on Ayesha Gulalai and her allegations

Kamal Siddiqi August 07, 2017
The writer is the former editor of The Express Tribune. He tweets @tribunian

If Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi wanted to make a difference in the way he would govern the country, all that came to naught with the announcement of his cabinet.

We are now burdened with a 43-member cabinet with 27 federal ministers and 16 ministers of state, besides the creation of five new ministries and their divisions. Is there no end to this madness? Can one imagine how much this new burden would cost on the national exchequer?

According to the 18th Constitutional Amendment, the size of the federal cabinet should be not more than 11 per cent of the total strength of the National Assembly and Senate, which means that the maximum number is 47, not leaving much choice for the new prime minister for further inductions.

At a time when parliament should have been demanding of the prime minister to explain this new burden on the people, all discussion centered on Ayesha Gulalai and her allegations of obscenity against Imran Khan.

This is the level of discourse in our national assembly. But what kind of dialogue can we expect from the opposition parties? Take the PPP for example. Every time its leader speaks at a public gathering, one does not know whether to laugh or cry, so bad is his delivery and command over the language. The less said about the content the better. Of late, our leaders have started to attack each other’s fathers. Very soon, unfortunately, mothers will also be attacked. So expecting such a party to deliver an intelligent speech in parliament may be hoping for too much.

What is very clear is that this cabinet has been formed keeping in mind the 2018 election. That is why most of the slots have been given to candidates from Punjab, especially South Punjab, where the PML-N hopes to make the most gains. For all intents and purposes, the PML-N remains a Punjab party and that is why whenever it comes to power, the only progress one sees in tangible terms is in Punjab. In the 43-member cabinet, 11 belong to south Punjab.

It seems Punjab is where the real test will come this time round too. The new development, of course, is that Hafiz Saeed has also decided to form his own political party. Given the work that the JuD and FIF have done over the past years, Hafiz Saeed has a number of followers and supporters spread across Punjab, especially South Punjab. While no one is expecting Hafiz sahib to form the next Punjab government, his entry into politics comes at the cost of right of centre parties, which include not only the PML-N but also the PTI.

The only possible silver lining seems to be that after a span of 20 years, a Hindu politician, Darshan Lal, is set to take the role of a cabinet minister. According to a government official 65-year-old Lal would lead coordination between the provinces.

Those who have covered Mian sahab’s politics would remember the “Punj-Pyaray” – the five ministers from Punjab that once formed his inner cabinet when he was previously the PM. Of those, one more has parted ways with the House of Sharifs. The non-inclusion of Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan as interior minister ends an era in Sharif politics. The Punj-Pyaray included Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, who served as interior minister with Sharif before General Musharraf took him away and made him interior minister. Sheikh Rasheed, who also parted ways during the Musharraf times, and has been in the wilderness ever since. Mushahid Hussain Syed, who was information minister with Mian Nawaz Sharif but also broke away and joined the military government. Chaudhry Nisar’s exclusion from the cabinet, the first time since 1989, suggests that possibly he too may part ways with Nawaz Sharif. The only one who remains would be Ishaq Dar, who is also related to the PM through the marriage of their children. He is going nowhere it seems.

Speaking of going nowhere, Islamabad is rife with rumours that Shehbaz Sharif will not be taking up the slot for prime minister as earlier announced by our ex-PM. One can only wonder what went wrong. Was it that Shehbaz proposed the name of his son for CM-ship at a time when Mian Sahab was looking to launch the career of his daughter?

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2017.

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Parvez | 6 years ago | Reply The PML-N still has a chance to redeem itself ....... but that would require a strong leader who's name does not end in Sharif ...... and Nawaz has made sure that no such person exists in the party.
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