Who will have the last laugh?


NEWS ANALYSIS – The PML-N will not move a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, is what emerged clearly from Nawaz Sharif’s press conference, though apparently he bailed out the prime minister and also saved his party’s “friendly” face by setting a 72-hour deadline for him to respond with a categorical ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether the government was willing to operate by the PML-N’s diktat.
The minimum agenda Nawaz Sharif set for Yousaf Raza Gilani is: act with authority; withdraw the raise in POL prices; evolve a mechanism to rationalize increases in power and gas tariff; take steps to minimize electricity and gas outages; eliminate corruption; sack corrupt ministers and officials and appoint honest people; implement the judiciary’s decisions; restructure the election commission; investigate scandals such as PSM, Agosta submarines purchase and Punjab Bank; establish an independent accountability bureau and recover loans written off on political grounds.
But the question is: Can a minority government – which has failed to put its house in order in three years when it had a clear majority – implement an agenda which even a government with a two-thirds majority and a team of capable people cannot execute in five years. The message for Gilani in Nawaz Sharif’s offer is clear: Dissolve the assembly and let a strong government come into power with a fresh mandate.
Though Nawaz indicated that the PML-N would contact other opposition parties before implementing his party’s agenda with the same assembly in place if the prime minister said ‘no’ to his proposal, he also for the first time said that a strong government with a fresh mandate was necessary, implying that the assembly would have to be dissolved for mid-term elections. The timeframe for the next elections, the pundits suggest, is late spring or early summer.
While it was PML-N’s calculated move to thwart the possibility of a no-confidence motion against a prime minister who got a unanimous vote of confidence from all political parties represented in the National Assembly, Nawaz Sharif also put Gilani in the dock and held him responsible for corruption and bad governance. Nawaz also questioned the role of the JUI-F and the MQM. The JUI-F wants the prime minister removed but does not say “no” to bad governance and corruption.
The MQM has parted ways with the government and moved to the opposition benches but announced support for the government’s “good policies” and opposition to its “wrongdoing”. The PML-N’s interim agenda for the PPP is also impracticable by February 20.
The PML-N strategy is to wait for the government to fall itself and deprive the PPP of the sympathy it would gain for having been prematurely ousted from the power.