The elected government in Pakistan has successfully completed its tenure: a first in the political history of the country. Now that a caretaker Prime Minister has also been appointed, what is the domestic situation in terms of elections and political process?
Managing the political transition until the next general elections in May lies in the hands of a gerontocracy: 84 year old Justice (retd) Mir Hazar Khan Khoso has been appointed as the Caretaker Prime Minister by the Election Commission, headed by 85 year old Justice (retd) Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim.
The Caretaker Chief Ministers
With the exception of Punjab where the Committee of Provincial Assembly legislators are still deliberating on the Caretaker Chief Minister, the process of interim government formation prescribed under Article 224A of the 1973 Constitution brought in by the 20th Amendment has now been completed. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and Baluchistan, agreement has been reached; the choice 65 year old Justice(retd) Tariq Parvez Khan in KPK, who retired recently from the Supreme Court and 72 year old Justice(retd) Zahid Qurban Alvi, who retired from the Sind high Court in August 2003. In Baluchistan, Nawab Ghaus Bux Barozai, son of former PPP leader, from Sibi district has been appointed.
The Caretaker Prime Minister: A Short Note
Mir Hazar Khan Khoso, the caretaker Prime Minister hails from Jaffrabad district of Baluchistan. He studied law in Karachi and was appointed to the Baluchistan High Court bench in 1977 just before Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was ousted as Prime Minister. He became Chief Justice there (1989-91) before being appointed to the Federal Shariat Court, heading it in 1992. Though enjoying a reputation for honesty according to some reports, anti-PPP critics like Ansar Abbasi have suggested that Khoso could not stand up to pressure and had a tendency to drift with the wind. Jamaat –e Islami leader, Syed Munawwar Hussain described his reputation as somewhat `zigzag’.
The Political Process
The general perception is President Zardari has skilfully outmanoeuvred the main opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in the negotiations for selecting the Caretaker PM. First, PML (N) was persuaded to drop Jamiat e Ulema(JuI-F) leader, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s nominee, Justice(retd) Shakirullah Jan from the Opposition’s list. Then former State Bank of Pakistan Governor, Ishrat Hussain’s name was included, ostensibly as the nominee of the establishment. Justice (retd) Nasir Aslam Zahid’s name was strenuously opposed by PPP nominees on the Parliamentary Committee.
Meanwhile, timing his next political step astutely, Zardari has given up his position as Party Co-Chairperson of the PPP. The party posts have been re-shuffled with Bilawal Bhutto being named to a new position of Chief Patron. Jehangir Badr, an old Benazir loyalist from Punjab has been eased out as General Secretary. Zardari loyalists- Sardar Latif Khosa and Masood Kauser have been appointed to key posts of party General Secretary and Information Secretary respectively. Bilawal Bhutto is understood to be unhappy with some of these moves.
On March 23, Imran Khan held an impressive rally at the Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore administering oaths of allegiance to his newly elected 80,000 Tehrik-e-Insaaf Party delegates, vowing to pursue the justice of the downtrodden, when elected to power. He reiterated his determination not to seek coalition alliances with any other party but qualified this position the very next day by holding seat adjustment talks with the Jamaat-e-Islami(JeI). He contended these talks were passé as the JeI had not taken part in the 2008 elections and could not be blamed for having partaken of spoils by a corrupt set of politicians who had ground the common people to dust so ruthlessly in the last five years.
Assessing present electoral trends, some Pakistani academics and lawyers participating in a recent conference in Delhi indicated that the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) seemed better placed to emerge as the single largest party in the May 11 polls though they may just fall short of absolute majority. A coalition alliance could be cobbled together with smaller parties. Their perception is that the PPP will suffer significantly from anti-incumbency. Others have cautioned that the PPP’s vote bank in Sindh and southern Punjab cannot simply be written off. Imran Khan’s PTI could eat into a sizable chunk of the right of centre vote in Punjab and KPK. Its attraction is mainly focused on urban youth. If PTI gets anything between 20-40 seats, considerations of realpolitik could force it to be more amenable to alliances and emerge as a crucial player in government formation.
It is early days though to speculate on election forecasts. Violence may be at a higher pitch this time, both on account of threat from the Tehrik e Taliban, in FATA, KPK and in Karachi, on account of sectarian and local rivalries.
To follow the rest of the debate, click:
• PR Chari, IPCS Commentary #3890
• Rana Banerji, IPCS Commentary #3851
• D. Suba Chandran, IPCS Commentary, #3869
• Zainab Akhter, IPCS Commentary, #3898
• Sushant Sareen, IPCS Audio Commentary
• Rana Banerji, IPCS Audion Commentary