MQM decision sagacity or pure gamble
The government lacking majority, with 127 seats in a house of 342, may have survived for some time. it had already lost the moral authority and was in no position to get its decisions carried when it needed a minimum 172 votes to do that. Then arose the question of successor. PPP was without an answer. Almost every other party in the lower house of the parliament, depended on Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N who with his 92 members in the House, held the key to the tangle. His warnings to the government, first phase of which, expiring tomorrow, will see PPP thrown out of the Punjab coalition, and then after February 20, Nawaz wants to pursue protest marches, and mount pressure within the Assembly, after which it has phase-wise programme to take on Zardari and his colleagues.
Whether the PML-N is aiming at mid-term elections, is still unclear. Some of its stalwarts have dropped hints at that, but the former prime minister is still to disclose his cards. I think Nawaz does not wish to do anything which might provide a chance to the military to intervene in the wake of a possible chaos. He is right. Once bitten twice shy. Nawaz twice had been dealt a raw deal by army chiefs, General Waheed Kakar tried to dislodge him, but had to agree to remove late Ghulam Ishaq Khan also from the Presidency. Musharraf took over control of the country, treating an elected prime minister like a serve. Such incidents had made him doubly cautious. But simultaneously Nawaz is a much changed politician than he was in the 90s. He has learnt to speak now and articulate his thinking by actions and deeds.That has been a healthy change in him.
But even if he agrees to go for a change of government, it would depend on the head count in the new Assembly, thrown by the elections, if held half way through. If he fails to muster enough majority, he will have to do with a coalition arrangements of which he is scared because of likely blackmails from smaller partners. He also does not have a very good opinion about MQM. In fact, his close associate senator Pervez Rashid and Khawaja Saad Rafiq have been spitting venom against MQM, giving it all sorts of name. Whether election results would force Nawaz to change his mind towards MQM, like he did in 1997 when he allowed MQM to work under Liaquat Jatoi as chief minister who he dismissed later to impose governors’ rule in Sindh. That was a bad decision of Nawaz Sharif to believe in a fake report from the then inspector general of Sindh police Rana Maqbool about Hakim Saeed murder. Rana Maqbool is now facing charges in the Punjab and is wanted in Sindh. So where was the logic about governor’s rule in Sindh. Nawaz was misled about the whole situation. Whether he is willing to forget all that, is still not very clear.
Also, how many other partners will he have in his coalition would depend on number of seats he wins in the national assembly. Yet another major question is whether the resultant coalition will be able to work smoothly and deliver or get entangled in bickering etc. There will be no solution then either. The ultimatum Nawaz has served on the prime minister is being interpreted by some experts as a mere put up show. They opine that Nawaz was trying to mark time, and since he was under pressure after the MQM decision to sit on opposition benches, and also because of the crisis in the Punjab over inflation, prices, gas and CNG shortages, he tried to depend on ultimatum only so that he gets a breather till February 25.
Under these circumstances, when the situation was so fluid, and future uncertain, Altaf Hussain, after virtual begging from the prime minister and prolonged negotiations through Governor Ishratul Ebad, found that it was left with little options but to reverse decision about turning on to opposition benches but the fact that it has refrained from joining the federal government, shows that it has reservations about the government, and has warned the prime minister after his meeting at 90 that corruption remains the major menace about which something has to be done by the government. But MQM too has taken a weak stand. It served no deadline, no preconditions for the prime minister for its support to him, which means that it too is not clear about coming possibilities. MQM negotiation team does not let the people now what were the compulsions under which it bailed the premier out from a weakened position without any pre conditions. So let us see who is playing the gamble and who succeeds in coming weeks. Till then keep the fingers crossed.