A new prime minister

Prime Minister

Pakistan has a new elected prime minister: Raja Pervez Ashraf. On a day when the entire country’s gaze was transfixed on the National Assembly, the denouement came as no surprise.

Raja sahib, the PPP-led coalition’s candidate, garnered 211 votes, while his rival candidate, the PML-N’s Sardar Mehtab Abbasi could only manage 89. Only 300 votes were cast out of a total house of 338, the reasons for this discrepancy ranging from boycotts to absence from the house of some members. At the time of writing these lines, the premier-elect had briefly addressed the house. Later, there was to be a meeting at the presidency in celebration of what the president called the people’s trust in democracy as demonstrated by the peaceful, free of controversy voting in of a new prime minister in the house.

In contrast with the smooth manner in which the transition took place, there were quite a few jolts before and even up to the last moment. First and foremost, the PPP’s preferred candidate, Makhdoom Shahabuddin was knocked out thanks to the Anti-Narcotics Force, which timed its non-bailable warrants of arrest for Shahabuddin, the former health minister, exquisitely within a few hours of the Makhdoom filing his nomination papers. Presumably to avoid another crisis, the PPP decided to go with its cover candidate. As it turned out of course, perhaps the development was not without its silver lining. Raja sahib was helped by the last minute withdrawal as a presidential candidate of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman, even if his party decided to stay away from the voting. It must be said to the Maulana’s credit though that he seems to have imbibed some wisdom since his years of flirtation with the Musharraf dictatorship, in that he stated on the eve of the prime ministerial election that it would be better to stick with ‘one of ours’ (politicians) rather than a General.

This reflects the growing consensus in Pakistan’s polity and society that despite its flaws and weaknesses (in the area of delivery mainly), democracy is at this juncture and perhaps for the foreseeable future, the only way forward for the country. This is the distillation of the adverse experience of military dictatorship in our history (30 years consumed by these illegal usurpations), which has proved beyond doubt that military dictatorships are disasters waiting to happen that leave behind more problems than they started out with. The continuity of democratic evolution, which helps weed out the dross and bring forward better stuff, is the only possible course for correction of our faults and problems. The collective wisdom of our elected representatives, even where it fails, is still superior to the whims, wishes, caprices and agendas of any dictator.

Having said that, it must be admitted that the new premier-elect’s task is far from easy. The next step will be the swearing in of a ‘new’ cabinet, although it is expected that many of the faces will be the same old ones, such being the human resource pool available. Perhaps in order of priority, Raja Pervez Ashraf will have to tackle first and foremost the severe energy crisis that has crippled the economy and brought normal life to a grinding and painful halt. Perhaps Raja sahib’s credentials in this regard are tainted by the Rental Power Plants fiasco, but one hopes he has learnt something from that bruising experience. Following on from the energy crisis is the state of the economy. If energy is available, the chances of stabilisation, if not recovery, improve immeasurably.

The rest nudges us onto the third great challenge before the incoming prime minister: our foreign and strategic policies that impact back on the economy and life in general. So long as Pakistan is perceived as a breeding ground for terrorists and whose circle of operations has long enveloped the country itself, we will remain relegated to virtual pariah status in the world, an uncomfortable isolation that bodes little good. The relationship with the US/NATO, our involvement in Afghanistan, our reluctance/unwillingness to deny the Afghan Taliban safe havens on our soil, all these are issues requiring urgent attention/resolution. This menu would deter many a brave heart. Let us hope Raja Pervez Ashraf is made of the sterner stuff required (the judiciary willing). -Dailytimes