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Lame duck PM by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

Majority of op-ed columns and editorial reads more like obituaries suggesting that the PM of Pakistan has been converted to a lame duck. They suggest that Mr. PM cannot do anything after the damage done to his authority by the twin dharnas of PTI and PAT. Realty is far from it. Only in an authoritarian, dictatorial or single party system the political power remains stable because voices of dissent are suppressed. In a democratic system the political power oscillate between bands of high and low. All democratic governments experience it whether developed or underdeveloped.

 

US President Obama experienced a government shut down for a week because Republican Party, holding majority in the congress, refused to approve the budget. It was a major embarrassment for the government and rattled the bond markets. He experienced similar deadlock over his healthcare bill and was able to get it passed by a hair thin margin. Even then State governments filed petitions in the Supreme Court (SC) challenging the constitutionality of the bill. The judgment passed by the SC upheld the bill with minor adjustment but the bench was split 5 in favor to 4 against.

 

Popular Japanese PM Shinzo Abe this week experienced a major setback when two of his key ministers resigned because of corruption allegations. He is also facing stiff competition to change the pacifist nature of the Japanese constitution. PM of Turkey Recep Tayyib Erdogan, before becoming President, saw a major threat to his rule when Gezi park protests turned violent costing nine lives. Many of my friends, that are familiar with Turkish politics, felt that Erdogan may not be able to survive the crisis and may have to step down. He not only survived but won a historic Presidential election to become first popularly elected President of Turkey. All other countries practicing democracy experience similar crisis sooner or later.

 

In Pakistan a political crisis becomes soap opera because no stake holder practice a pattern of behavior that is within parameters of tradition, culture, and constitutional boundaries. We practice a high stake poker approach to politics and in the process not only destabilize our country but create hurdles for future stability by creating new patterns that are considered a norm. In the high tension times of dharnas, it is interesting that many opinion makers suggested that military should not be unnecessarily politicized. It is amusing that these opinion makers are slapped on their face by military when statements that are laced with political connotations are issued. This needs to change. Military leaders should realize that they should focus on their professional commitments and withdraw military from political meddling. There is substantial evidence that General Raheel Shareef is keen on removing military from the politics but the character of the institution will take some time to change. So he has to tread carefully and not rock the boat too hard.

 

The bottom line is that the idea that PM of Pakistan is lame duck has no legs considering the dynamic of realpolitik. PML N government faced its lowest point when the two dharnas left Lahore but from that moment onwards the government has slowly but surely regained some of its power back. Keeping weak political power in hand is far better than losing all of it. PM Nawaz is well aware of it and that was a major plank of his strategy. He also understood that all other political parties will prefer to deal with him rather than a General or a set up installed by them. So they rallied around him not for his sake only but for their own political future.

 

Going forward PM Nawaz will focus on few things. First will be to improve his standing with people by providing them economic relief. Reduction in fuel and electric tariff will be major pieces of this strategy. They will next try to overcome the shortage of electricity to reduce load shedding. I expect this situation to resolve in next two years. The third pillar of their economic plan will be to work on mega project like Diamer Bhasha Dam, Gawadar to Islamabad motorway, etc. etc. Politically PML N will do whatever in its power to maintain their grip on Punjab. Punjab with its 146 NA seats is almost 50% of the assembly and controlling it will provide them assurance of another term in office. PML N seems to be working at the grass roots to prepare for local bodies election which will solidify their position.

 

But there are few things that are working against PM Nawaz and he seems incapable of overcoming it. First is the rising social and income divide. Inflation is still very high and incomes are not rising as fast which will adversely affect almost 60% of the population. Economics of PM Nawaz are more suited for the top 15% of the nation rather than the bottom half. Another chink in PM’s armor is that PML N has become a Punjab centric party which alienate smaller provinces and that can produce a backlash. The difference in quality of life between Punjab and other provinces is rising fast creating a social crisis with ethnic color. PML N rocky relations with military establishment is another source of political tension for him.

 

The question then is who can challenge PML N in next elections? PPP seems to have lost its script and desperately looking for something new to hang on to. Bilawal is making similar mistakes made by Rahul Gandhi. He is making ideological statements that could define the new left. But he lacks the warmth and connection with the poor segments of the society that were the historical base of PPP. He acts more like a crown prince than a politician that understands and resonate with people. It is not yet clear whether he will learn the ropes of chaotic politics of Pakistan or not.

 

PTI has the potential to emerge as a lead party but they are making the mistake of relying on a narrow strategy of jalsas and street. PTI has to create depth in its political strategy by using multichannel means of protest including parliament, think tank reports, trade union activism, surveys, academia and consumer groups. In the absence of this depth they may be able to rock the boat but may not be able to achieve the political objective of forming a majority government. A fractured parliament in which PTI does not have a clear majority will push them to form coalition government with the very parties that are now target of their rhetoric.

 

There is also talk that an electoral alliance will be formed between PAT, United Muslim League, PML Q, and some other smaller parties. They could emerge as a key block for any future coalition government peddling the interest of the establishment.

 

Mid-term elections in the current toxic environment without electoral and governance reforms will be a disaster. A better approach will be to introduce reforms; hold local government elections; and reduce tension between parties before elections are held. PTI can take the initiative by withdrawing their resignations and return to the assemblies to offer an opposition that is non-existent.

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