Herding cats


Much has been said about the MQM’s latest petulance. For the party – being what it is – to have staged protests against the culture of extortion in Karachi’s commercial centres is the stuff satire pieces are made off. And satirists did, indeed, have a field day: “Because they don’t like competition,” etc.
But the event was interesting as far as illustrating an aspect of legislative exercise in the country is concerned. Now the MQM has a particular leverage that would be the case regardless of what its strength in any chamber of legislature, federal or provincial, is concerned; something it shouldn’t have in an ideal, fairer world. But consider now only its headcount in the houses. And that of the ANP. And the JUI(F) as well as the Baloch nationalist parties.
Since it is now clear that Pakistan, much like India, has moved past the single-party governments of the past, the emergence of coalition politics makes the leverage – again, legislative leverage, not talking about what all the MQM in specific has at its disposal – that smaller parties have, much larger.
The leverage that smaller parliamentary profiles now have could be timed to meet, say, presidential addresses or at times contentious and divisive bills are being passed.
The previous Congress-led government in India was on the brink of collapse because the leftists threatened to pull out (no bluff; they did, eventually) of the coalition as protest against American cooperation in the nuclear field. A lot of politicking was required to save the Manmohan Singh government. Only because the sliver of legislators belonging to the Left upset the applecart.
The American senate is also criticised for being too powerful. Most famously, legislators representing only 11 percent of the population can, theoretically, effectively block any piece of legislation.
This might seem anti-democratic but it would be a natural bit of “affirmative action” to compensate for our centralist state’s past. Leading a coalition, however, is going to become far trickier.