The prime minister appears, once again, to have shown his knack for cooling things down. By approaching the Supreme Court for an extension in the deadline for implementation of their decision against the NRO, he has given all sides an opportunity to take some time to cool off. The Supreme Court has acted wisely in granting an extension till October 13. This should afford all political and non-political actors who are calling for an early election to calm down and take stock of the situation. The fact of the matter is that, despite its incompetence in several key areas of governance, the current administration has the benefit of unquestionable democratic legitimacy. It is a mark of how far Pakistani democracy has come that an overt military coup seems to be beyond the pale of options currently being considered by those opposed to the PPP-led government.
Having ruled out extra-constitutional measures, the opposition should take stock of what it plans to do next. That the government has not been performing well is unquestionable. But it is the job of the opposition to point out the failings of the government in matters of policy and implementation, something that they have largely failed to do. The biggest threat that the opposition can deploy against the government is a no-confidence motion. Yet it seems that the opposition whips do not have the votes for it. And even if they manage to dissolve the National Assembly, the real target of their ire, the president, would remain ensconced behind a wall of constitutional protection. Dissolving parliament requires a simple majority. Impeaching the president requires a two-thirds majority.
For its part, the government would do itself and the country a huge favour by ceasing to provide so many opportunities for its opponents to pronounce the end of the world. The prime minister has taken the first step by asking beneficiaries of the NRO to step down, but they must be given a clear deadline and failure to resign should be met with a summary dismissal. Both sides have till October 13 to get their act together and bring the country back from the brink of political chaos. They would do well to do just that.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2010.
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