Are PPP and PML-N in a race to hit the bottom?

As if beset with feelings of a hounded person, President Zardari’s statements, of late, are exceedingly desperate. Take his speech at Zardari House in Benazirabad, previously known as Nawabshah, on Monday: “Anti-democratic forces do not want to see democracy flourish. Workers and leaders of the PPP are ready to challenge such anti-democratic forces.” But then he laments that “we have never seen justice being done to the PPP…uniformed people played joke with the country.However, they won’t be allowed now.” He is also prepared to be incarcerated, of which he is not scared because “he has no fear of mosquitoes”. No wonder, then his principal legal advisor, Babar Awan, is raising identical antes.That President Zardari indeed can be credited for following a policy of reconciliation and inclusion of major political players in the parliament as against confrontation is in conformity with the spirit of the Charter of Democracy that Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif signed while in exile in London. The result of such policy is that despite being political opponents, neither the PPP nor the PML (N), have gone to the extent of one ousting other except once, when Zardari was misled by his aides, albeit temporarily, when he imposed Governor’s rule on Punjab. Fortunately, for both parties, the imposition was reversed with a helping hand from the judiciary. A live-and-let-live policy remains operative, for which both sides deserve credit.

Having said that, one cannot fail to notice that not much has changed in the style and substance of governance, be it at the federal level or the provincial. It remains a one-man show, wherever the two parties are in office, instead of collective responsibility of their cabinets, answerable to their respective legislatures that is the hallmark of the parliamentary form of government. There is no desire to let go of power in decision-making and devolve authority down the line. The economy does not appear on their radar screens and the needed efforts broadly base the tax regime and tax to themselves are conspicuous by their absence. The fiscal position of the Punjab government is, in fact, worse than that of the federal government.

Of course, the danger to the government is real and instant. But it is not from the Supreme Court, or any other state organ; it’s of its own making. The failure of the government is too stark to be camouflaged by any excuse. The huge cabinet is beset with inertia, as much as by its feudalist worldview, as by the absence of leadership – a disappointment that gets testified once again by colossal failure to handle the recent floods and their aftermath. Then, there is this nonchalant attitude towards transparency and established rules of good governance. Rampant corruption that keeps coming up as lead stories in the national and international media is yet another stigma that has stuck unto the face of the Zardari-Gilani set-up. Not only is the international community wary of ‘involving’ our government in its aid and assistance to the flood victims, it is also holding back investment. Consequently foreign investment has sharply declined, which, in turn, has negatively impacted the prospects of economic growth.

Governments come and go. What should stand – and there is every hope it would in Pakistan, despite formidable challenges – is the democratic process. Our constitution, like all others in democracies, adequately caters to the possibility that an unpopular government has to be vacated from power, without derailing the system. Fortunately, with the 18th Amendment in place, the threat to the democratic process has completely disappeared. But, certainly, there is not much of a refuge for an unpopular government. But as against this legal reality, the Zardari section of the PPP government is trying to project that if something happens to his position as a result of the impending NRO case verdict, the whole system would collapse. That he should flash this warning as a “Sindh Card” is all the more disturbing. Asif Ali Zardari is first the President of Pakistan and then the party chief; it’s a constitutional obligation, any deviation from which would be a sure recipe for disaster.

It appears that both the PPP and the PML (N), with the former leading by a giraffe’s neck, are in a race to hit rock bottom, outdoing each other in profligacy and bad governance. Any unconstitutional or quasi-constitutional intervention or tinkering would be suicidal for the federation, particularly when the obtaining situation in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa needs deft political handling, a task well beyond the white-collar technocrats or the men in boots. It is precisely this messy situation that persuades the army to stay away despite pressure from certain quarters to intervene – Brecorder