A crossroad in Pakistani politics

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  • The curse of the two-thirds majority?

The fateful ends that governments who have received a two-thirds majority of votes are not a secret. Historically speaking. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto won with a two-thirds majority in the 1970s, subsequently forming a government. It is common knowledge that Bhutto ended up ousted from power with martial law imposed in the country. After the imposition of martial law, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the founder of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), was hanged to death. In 1997, the majority government of Nawaz Sharif won by a two-thirds majority, forming a government that was also toppled and replaced by martial law. Unlike with Bhutto, after martial law was instated, the Mian brothers were pardoned and exiled.

Governments with either a two-thirds majority or a heavy mandate are not acceptable to certain circles of power that exist in the country. Strong governments dare to overhaul budgetary allocations and foreign policy — a chronic point of contention between democratic governments and the inflexible establishment.

The senior leadership of the PML-N realised early on that the future of the party depended on Sharif family unity. Despite rampant rumors and predictions, no split was seen in the Sharif family, in particular, between the senior Sharifs

Weak democratic coalition governments, on the other hand, have many handicaps. For example, the anti-terrorism operation faced an inordinate delay during the PPP’s last government. If Benazir Bhutto had been the prime minister of the country at that time with a two-thirds majority government, the operation against extremism would have been launched in days instead of in months. Similarly, the current PML-N incumbent government suffers a state of inaction regarding the issues of the repatriation of Afghan refugees and the mainstreaming of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

The past 20 years of Pakistani history show that the existing situation would have been different if certain decisions had been made correctly during the Musharraf era. For instance, the production of electricity was completely neglected, leaving an entire generation in the dark. Why are such major blunders committed during military governments? Military rulers are dictators who have no advisors, choosing to surround themselves with sycophants instead. Their work is to heap praise on the dictator, while keeping silent about the real situations the country faces. A democratic leader or politician, on the other hand, must listen and respond to criticism and complaints from their electorate. A dictator neither tolerates that kind of humiliation nor allows anyone speak to him in such a tone or tenor. As a result, monumental issues like the country’s energy crisis sink into oblivion due to the self-blinded military dictatorship’s lack of attention to the actual needs of the people.

The current needs of the country demand that the basic structure of Pakistan be revised and improved. There is an earnest need for altering budgetary allocations. Education and healthcare are two highly important political issues in Pakistan, but the government spends only 2.3 percent of the GDP on education and only three percent on the health sector. A number of other sectors have budgetary allocations that need either slashing or hiking as well.

These problems and the inability to rectify them are symptoms of a weak government that lacks a two-thirds majority. Without a coalition or a two-thirds majority, a democratic government is left so weak that it cannot make fundamentally important decisions, despite having the reins of the country in its hands. Perhaps, a weak government suits those who wish to operate a “state within the state,” as explained by ex-prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani, as a weak government becomes a lackey to their wishes and aspirations, allowing them to direct the action from behind the scenes.

On July 28, 2017, the five-member Supreme Court of Pakistan unanimously disqualified Mian Nawaz Sharif from holding future public office positions. After the verdict of the Panama case against Mian Sahib was handed down, the PML-N faced a time of trial and tribulation. Some had hoped that the PML-N would disintegrate as a result of these testing times. Failing that, they hoped that the party would be significantly weakened so that if it somehow managed to form a government, that government would be either a coalition of different parties or a weak government.

The PML-N did the opposite, maintaining its winning spree in by-polls held in different constituencies across the country. These polls showed that the future political landscape had become more favourable to the PML-N. The large margin by which the PTI lost the NA-154 seat, an important constituency, made it particularly evident that in the upcoming general elections the PML-N would be able to once again repeat history, against the wishes of both the opposition parties and the establishment.

The senior leadership of the PML-N realised early on that the future of the party depended on Sharif family unity. Despite rampant rumors and predictions, no split was seen in the Sharif family, in particular, between the senior Sharifs. Despite some trivial differences, the dynasty of this family has remained intact.

But, the political tide has turned once again against PML-N after the Supreme Court’s decision on February 21, 2018 to remove Mian Nawaz Sharif as head of PML-N. Most of the political gains achieved in the by-election winning streak have been lost and many constituencies might face reelections. Mian Sharif will not be able to legally carry on with his defiant and audacious political campaign. This leaves more space for conspiracy theories, in-house party splits, and perhaps even defectors. That the Sharifs and the PML-N can survive this setback and regain momentum seems very unlikely, but the possibility should not be dismissed completely. Nawaz Sharif’s mood and tone clearly reflect that he is not going to adapt a reconciliatory path or take this judgment sitting down. The democratic future of Pakistan depends on the course of action the parliament chooses to take in next few days. These can be considered the defining days of Pakistan’s political future.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Being a PTV employee nothing positive for the country is expected, from this writer, if you call him one. He must have received this in black and white from the Mariyum network.
    It is such sychophancy that is keeping them glued togather and the fear of reprisal if they split.
    This is true of PPPP also. I was amazed to watch Mr Aitezaz Ahsan call Bilawal a learned person and very foolishly compared BB with our great Qauid. I am convinced that PML N and PPPP have concluded MukMukaa and are heading for a reproachment. This column endorses this view.

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