By Najam Sethi
March 02, 2012
The PPP government of President Asif Zardari seems to have weathered the storm generated some months ago by disgruntled or hostile elements in the army, judiciary, media and opposition. Indeed, it now looks as though it will drag itself to the finishing line of the next general elections by year's end through cunning strategy and sheer force of will. Consider.
Memogate has lost its sting because the government didn't take the conspiracy lying down. It forcefully countered by challenging the impartiality of the judiciary, the motives of the ISI, prejudice of the media and credibility of the sole accuser. While the judiciary and accuser are still persisting with the investigation in order to save face, the army and media have backed off from the wild goose chase. It would now be perceived as a scandalous travesty of justice if the farcical proceedings in London were to amount to any concrete censure of Husain Haqqani.
The judiciary's awareness of the twisted turn of politics has also ensured a fairer hearing of the contempt of court case against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani than originally feared. It was a stroke of cunning genius to woo Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan back to the party's fold and then throw him into the ring to buy time and space in which to sail through the Senate elections and fortify the PPP in the upper house of parliament. This is a political milestone whose message has gone out loud and clear. The PPP will not just be able to cobble an absolute majority in the Senate, it will also consolidate its hold over the chairmanship of the house, which is a heartbeat away from the Presidency. No less significantly, no major legislation or resolution can now be passed easily in the National Assembly by any anti-PPP coalition, now or in the next three years before another Senate election is due. This cover provides a degree of unprecedented comfort for President Zardari who expects to stay on many months after the next general election.
As if these two developments weren't sufficient to stiffen the PPP's resolve to hang on to power, the conclusion of the by-elections without any major mishap, coupled with a fair turnout and support for the PPP (it won four out of the ten seats), has sent a strong signal to the electorate that "the party isn't over" by any stretch of the imagination. No less visibly, the good showing of the PMLN has also served to diminish the wind behind the sails of Imran Khan's PTI, which is billing itself as a Tsunami that will "sweep away all PPP-PMLN pests". Clearly, Imran Khan's decision to boycott the by-elections was a blunder because it gave his nemeses an opportunity to regroup and make their presence felt.
The icing on Mr Zardari's cake is the passing of the 20th constitutional amendment. It genuinely paves the way for the appointment of a neutral caretaker regime under an independent election commission to conduct the next elections. Imran Khan has brushed this development aside as a "rotten deal" by the PPP and PMLN to hog power jointly. But, like his boycott of the by-elections, this criticism doesn't wash, and it merely shows him up as a leader without political savvy or strategy.
The writing on the wall is clear. Both mainstream parties have come to the conclusion that any further destabilization of the government will only serve the interests of the military establishment while portraying them both in a bad light in comparison with the PTI. So an understanding seems to have been reached for mutual benefit: the next elections should be held on or about time this year or early next year so that both parties, the PPP in Sindh and Islamabad and the PMLN in Punjab, can start throwing some budgetary goodies at their respective electorates in order to woo them to their side or retain their loyalties. The next federal and provincial budgets in May-June promise to lay on relief packages and handouts for the poor and middle classes even though all this will be at the expense of the fiscal deficit and public sector development projects.
There is, of course, one creeping issue that threatens to scuttle such carefully laid plans. This is the matter of the PM's alleged contempt of court for failing to write an appropriate letter to the Swiss authorities reviving the money-laundering case against Asif Zardari. The court has decided to give a long rope to the PM so that when justice is eventually done it is also "seen to have been done" as such. This is to say that Aitzaz Ahsan may be able to drag along the case but he will not be able to dissuade the court from insisting upon the letter or punishing the PM. That is a slippery slope the PPP should avoid because it has the potential to blow up in Mr Zardari's face and derail the system.
Source: The Friday Times