The Dust Settles, Somewhat


It is only now beginning to dawn on the people of Pakistan that despite themselves they have managed to pull off somewhat of a miracle by not even giving a “heavy” (Mian Nawaz Sharif-type) mandate (10% of the available vote) to any of the political parties. With the Election Commission reporting 40% plus of voting percentage, PML (Q) and PPP-P got almost an equal number of votes, nobody got more than 10% of votes that could be cast. Claiming a “revolution” to anyone who will listen, MMA’s vote tally amounts to a grand 4%. The number of seats do not truly reflect the reality on the ground in the “first-past-the-post-system”. The MMA constituent parties got almost the same number of votes they normally get in any general election, this time their votes were counted together in a Qazi é engineered “alliance”. With the main PML split into PML (Q) and PML (N), and both PPP and ANP also split in NWFP, MMA swept them aside in close races. A low turnout in any election always helps the more organized political machine, whose rank and file are more likely to turn out the vote en masse. The anti-American factor helped solidify the MMA vote in the border areas of NWFP and Balochistan but not as overwhelming as given out to be. Maulana Fazlur Rehman of JUI (F) may strut his stuff as a potential PM but with less than 60 votes (including the ones reserved for women) in the National Assembly out of 340, or less than 20%, Maulana Sahib’s expectations are rather overéambitious. At best his posturing is a bargaining position, meant to get maximum benefit for himself, his party and the alliance, MMA, and in that order. As a close ally of Ms Benazir, he managed that to his benefit in the last PPP regime.

The ARD Chief, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, his kith and kin wiped out electorally, has been indulging in severe exercise of sour grapes. While everyone has started talking to everyone, as should be the norm in any democracy, the good Nawabzada has been demanding that the ARD parties, specifically PPP-P, not talk with PML (Q) at all. The best way to register a protest about the electoral scheme of things was to boycott the polls, those taking part have legitimized the process, to claim otherwise now is sheer hypocrisy. The country has had enough of negative politics, as its chief symbol, this old “soldier” needs to fade away, holding his hookah aloft.

The PML (Q) is the single largest party and can go over the top nationally with an alliance with either the PPP-P or MMA. It could possibly form a government without either of them with alliances with the Grand National Alliance (GNA) or the MQM. The government in the Center would always be under pressure. While PML (Q) has a clear majority in the Punjab, it could make weak governments in Sindh (with MQM, GNA and other) and in Balochistan, with the smaller regional parties. If PML (Q) joins with MMA, it has a clear majority in Sindh and Balochistan, with a MMA-led government in NWFP. The coming together of PML (Q) and the MMA is not only extremely workable, it is inevitable. PPP-P will than be left out in the political cold. This will be a catastrophe for Bhutto’s flock who desperately need to become part of government/s somehow. Ms Benazir is trying to cut a deal to get the corruption cases against her dropped, and her husband who has almost “served one free term in person” without being convicted, released or placed under house arrest. At the receiving end five long years, the PPP-P can only form a government in Sindh as part of the coalition in the Centre. They can hardly control Ms Benazir’s inherent tendency for constant “double speak” to suit the audience. Her ability for two radically different postures simultaneously for two diverse entities is unmatched. While her party leaders are negotiating with PML (Q), she is busy protesting the fairness of the elections and the conduct of the regime in writing to disparate Heads of Government. While Amin Fahim and colleagues are trying to get the confidence of the MMA leaders, she is busy lamenting the emergence of a “Talibaan” regime in Pakistan. She forgets Maulana Fazlur Rahman was not only an ally but Chairman of important committees. The knowledge that she will be running things through “remote control” will scuttle Amin Fahim’s chances of bringing PPP-P into government in the Centre and in Sindh.

As the majority party, PML (Q) has the privilege of nominating one of their members as the PML-to be. With stalwarts like Illahi Baksh Soomro, Mian Azhar, Begum Abida Hussain, Fakhr Imam, etc knocked out of contention, PML candidates narrow down to a handful. Ms Zubida Jalal did quite well as the military regime’s Education Minister, and despite becoming the first Baloch woman to ever win a direct election, she has hardly shown the spark necessary to be able to cope with the rough and tumble of governance.

In the spirit of “supreme sacrifice”, Ch Shujaat Hussain got someone to ghostwrite a wonderful disclaimer as to why he would not be a candidate for PM! Having not much to say to the world, the Ch Shujaat Hussains of the world are best as Kingmakers, better off as puppet masters rather them becoming puppets on a string. This prize catch, Chief Minister Punjab’s slot, is now reserved for his long-denied cousin, Ch Pervez Elahi. Ch Shujaat Hussain would hate that a Punjabi PM breath down his cousin CM’s neck. This probably scuttles the chances someone educated, urbane and sophisticated like Mian Khurshid Kasuri or long-time PML leader Lt Gen (Retd) Majid Malik whose candidacy may be handicapped by his military background. If one were looking to the future, their can be no better person for PM than Humayun Akhtar, now a veteran of four electoral exercises in Pakistan (since 1988). Humayun Akhtar’s CV stands out for sheer ability and competence. Articulate in both Urdu and English, he is confident and logical in always presenting a refreshing and mature point of view on the electronic media.

From Balochistan, Zafarullah Jamali has been Chief Minister twice but that is legally not a bar to his aspirations. An affable person who gets along with almost everyone and strong connections, he can stake a strong claim. The original dark horse, Farooq Leghari (of his own Millat Party), may not be acceptable to everyone in the PML (Q), but his presence in the post-elections ruling alliance gives him a good enough shot at the PM’s slot. The MMA may spring a surprise by nominating Aftab Ahmed Sherpao (of his own faction of PPP) to be the compromise choice for an alliance with PML (Q) in forming the government. Chief Minister of NWFP twice, Aftab Sherpao has the necessary administrative experience and the ability.

Mr. Ikram Sehgal is Publisher and Managing Editor of Defence Journal (Pakistan).