EDITORIAL: Precarious survival

If the PPP government thought that 2010 was a tough year, 2011 is proving to be even worse. On January 1, petroleum prices were increased. The public was aghast. On January 2, the MQM dropped another bombshell, this time for the government instead of the public. The MQM decided to withdraw from the coalition government at the federal level and sit on the opposition benches. On December 27, 2010, the MQM’s two ministers left the federal cabinet. Within a week, the MQM has made two important decisions but the third and the most important one, i.e. the Sindh coalition government, does not seem to be forthcoming so far. With the JUI-F’s announcement of quitting the coalition government at the Centre and now the MQM’s pullout, the PPP is officially a minority government. Theoretically, a minority government can continue in power but there are obvious disadvantages that such a government faces.

Prime Minister Gilani said that he does not “see any crisis” after the MQM’s withdrawal. Mr Gilani’s bravado notwithstanding, we are in for a political crisis. If the government is defeated in a bill, it will force the president to either change the prime minister or go for new elections even though President Zardari said he “solidly stands behind [Mr Gilani] in foiling any attempt to destabilise the coalition government”. The onus of proving a majority is on the premier and legislation is the responsibility of the government. A legislative defeat will mount pressure on the government, as this is what parliamentary convention is all about.

The prime minister is trying to salvage the situation by meeting with the PML-Q leaders who have assured him of their support. So far, it seems that no one in the opposition would like to rock the PPP’s boat as far as a vote of no-confidence against the government is concerned. The reason for this could be simple. Pakistan is going through one of its toughest phases right now. The economy is in the doldrums, the law and order situation is out of the government’s control and corruption is rampant as ever. If this government falls and fresh elections are held, there is a good chance that the leading party would still not get a majority and would have to cobble together another coalition. The PPP’s experience of a coalition is daunting for all political parties. Thus, they would all rather wait for the PPP to rule right now, albeit with great difficulty. When the general elections were held in February 2008, the PPP got the sympathy vote yet it was not enough for a simple majority in parliament. The fractured mandate forced the PPP to opt for a coalition government. The first blow to the coalition came when the second largest party, the PML-N, withdrew from the government and took on the part of the opposition. It is time that the government takes stock of what went wrong in less than three years since it came to power.

There are speculations that the security establishment might be behind the JUI-F and MQM’s moves in order to derail the democratic process. On the face of it, nothing can be ruled out. But even if this is true, the government has to realise that it provided a chance to the establishment for backdoor political manoeuvring. It is tragic that the PPP has frittered away its goodwill since the February 2008 elections. All the good work done under this government — for instance, the 18th and 19th constitutional amendments and the NFC Award — are now under threat. A paralysed government is not just bad for the PPP but for the country as a whole. When governance and management becomes even more difficult, the PPP might just be forced to go or willingly seek a fresh mandate. Whatever happens, the end game for this government appears closer – Dailytimes