Cabinet at the limit

Published: August 12, 2017



Cabinets in democracies vary in size as well as the proportion of the lower houses and assemblies that are drawn from. In 2014 Canada had a cabinet of 39, the UK 33, Australia and New Zealand both 28 — all regarded as typical sizes for developed states. Today in 2017, Pakistan has a cabinet of 47 which is the maximum allowed as two more cabinet ministers and two more ministers of state took the oath on 10th August. This now exceeds the membership of the last cabinet — 36 — and makes it impossible to expand any further. Any changes are going to have to be on a one-in-one-out basis. The 18th Amendment to the Constitution is the limiting factor. The federal cabinet cannot be more that 11 per cent of the total membership of the National Assembly — 340 — and the Senate — 104 — thus setting the maximum at 47.

Almost by definition the larger a governing body gets the fewer chances there are for consensus; and in the deeply divided state of Pakistan getting more than a dozen people in a single room to agree unanimously about anything relating to politics or governance is difficult. Herding 47 highly egotistical career politicians into anything like a semblance of unity is going to be equally difficult, but the prime minister probably had little choice but to upsize.

The new cabinet is a reflection of the necessity to cater to the demands of party leaders in provinces other than Punjab, but in pushing the cabinet to the maximum there could well be trouble ahead for the fledgling prime minister who is already being pulled in several directions simultaneously. It is now apparent that his appointment is not an interim measure and it will extend to the next general election. Even though the PM is going to be manipulated from behind the scenes by the Sharif brothers he is also going to be finding his own feet in the slippery power-pool. He will make and break his own alliances, and the Sharifs may now have too many balls in the air to avoid occasionally dropping one. Or two. The pre-Panama Papers certainties have all evaporated and nothing, including dynasties, is forever.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 12th, 2017.

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